Journalists’ organizations say South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol attacked press freedom when his office this week banned a TV station crew from the media pool on his presidential plane over alleged bias in reporting.
Yoon previously accused MBC of damaging the country’s alliance with the United States after it released a video suggesting he had insulted US members of Congress following a meeting with US President Joe Biden in New York in September.
Yoon’s office told MBC that it would not provide “coverage assistance” to the channel for its upcoming trips to Cambodia and Indonesia for meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Group of Top 20 Rich and Developing Countries because of “repeated” trade distortion and biased reporting” on diplomatic issues.
Yoon, a Conservative who took office in May, on Thursday doubled down on the decision to ban MBC reporters from his plane, saying “important national interests” are at stake. Yoon travels to Cambodia on Friday to attend ASEAN meetings and will be in Indonesia for the G-20 meetings the following week. He will attend a trilateral summit with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio in Cambodia on Sunday to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
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“The president spends so much taxpayer money traveling abroad because important national interests are at stake, and that’s why we’ve been helping journalists cover diplomatic and security-related issues,” Yoon said. “(I) hope the decision can be understood from that perspective,” he said of MBC reporters getting off his plane, which also barred them from flight briefings and other media opportunities.
In statements to The Associated Press, MBC said Yoon’s office ignores press freedom and democratic principles and will continue to send reporters on commercial flights to Cambodia and Indonesia to cover Yoon’s trip in order to uphold the “public’s right to know.” to serve.
A coalition of journalist organizations, including the Journalists Association of Korea and the National Union of Media Workers, issued a statement calling on Yoon’s office, which they called “unconstitutional and ahistorical restrictions on reporting,” and participating in the decision Presidential officials involved resign.
“The presidential plane is run on taxpayers’ money, and each media outlet pays its own money to cover reporting costs,” they said.
“Reporting and monitoring how the President, as a public figure, carries out public duties and duties is an essential part of democracy. We cannot suppress our astonishment that the Presidential Office confuses reporters’ use of the presidential plane with use of private property and considers this as a charity bestowed by Yoon Suk Yeol, the individual,” the statement said.
The groups compared the incident to when the White House under former US President Donald Trump suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass after he had a heated conversation with Trump during a news conference.
Seoul-based newspapers Hankyoreh and Kyungyang Shinmun voluntarily gave up their seats on Yoon’s plane to protest what Hankyoreh called an “undemocratic attempt at media control.” They said their reporters would use commercial flights to cover the Southeast Asia meetings.
The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued a statement saying that “restrictions on reporting deemed ‘distorted’ at one site raise concerns for press freedoms at home and abroad.” It called for all media to be treated with “the same principles of access, regardless of the tone or style of journalistic reporting”.
In September, MBC caught Yoon on tape speaking to his aides and top diplomats on the sidelines of UN General Assembly sessions after a brief conversation with Biden. While the audio was unclear, Yoon could be heard using seemingly obscene language in comments the broadcaster captioned, “What if the bastards in Parliament don’t agree… Biden would be embarrassed.”
Yoon’s meeting with Biden came after both gave speeches in support of the Global Fund, an international campaign to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Biden administration has pledged $6 billion in US contributions to the initiative through 2025, but it has yet to be approved by Congress. Yoon’s government has pledged $100 million.
Yoon’s office later insisted he wasn’t talking about the US Congress or Biden. Kim Eun-hye, spokesman for Yoon, said he expressed concern that the opposition-controlled National Assembly of South Korea might reject his plan for the $100 million contribution. She insisted that the word MBC heard as “Biden” was actually “nallimyun,” a term that can be used to describe something being thrown away.
After returning to Seoul, Yoon said the media could endanger South Korea’s security by “damaging the alliance with reports that differ from the facts.” Whether he called the South Korean lawmakers “idiots” is yet to be specifically addressed.
Yoon’s predecessors have also been accused of suppressing freedom of expression.
Former Liberal President Moon Jae-in faced international criticism after members of his ruling party singled out a South Korean-born Bloomberg reporter for what they saw as a “borderline treacherous” article in 2019, leading to threats to the reporter’s safety. The article’s headline described Moon as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “chief spokesman” at the UN General Assembly, detailing his efforts to salvage stalled nuclear diplomacy with the North.
Under Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, prosecutors charged a Japanese journalist with defamation of Park by citing salacious rumors about her whereabouts on the day of a ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people in 2014.
Before Park, former President Lee Myung-bak was criticized for arresting an anti-government blogger and accused of making major news networks his mouthpiece by filling their leadership with supporters and having them compete for a small number of new television licenses taken from his government issued .