South Korean leader slammed for banning broadcaster from plane

Journalists’ organizations say South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol attacked press freedom when his office this week banned a TV broadcaster’s crew from joining his presidential plane’s media pool over bias alleged in the reports.

Yoon previously accused MBC of undermining the country’s alliance with the US after posting a video suggesting he insulted members of US Congress following a meeting with US President Joe Biden in New York in September.

Yoon’s office told MBC it would not provide the broadcaster with “reporting assistance” during its upcoming trips to Cambodia and Indonesia for Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings. (ASEAN) and the Group of 20 leading rich and developing countries over what it describes as “repeated distortions and biased reporting” on diplomatic issues.

Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, on Thursday doubled down on his decision to bar MBC reporters from his plane, saying “important national interests” were at stake.

Yoon leaves for Cambodia on Friday to attend ASEAN meetings and will be in Indonesia the following week for G-20 meetings. He will participate in a trilateral summit with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Cambodia on Sunday to discuss the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

“The reason the President uses so much taxpayers’ money to travel abroad is because important national interests are at stake and that’s also why we provided assistance to journalists covering diplomatic and security issues. “, Yoon said. “[I] I hope the decision can be understood from that perspective,” he said of letting MBC reporters off his plane, which will also exclude them from in-flight briefings and other media opportunities.

In statements provided to The Associated Press, MBC said Yoon’s office ignored press freedom and democratic principles and would always send journalists to Cambodia and Indonesia on commercial flights to cover Yoon’s trip. Yoon in order to serve the “public’s right to know”.

A coalition of journalists’ organizations, including the Korea Journalists Association and the National Union of Media Workers, issued a statement demanding that Yoon’s office withdraw what it described as an “unconstitutional and ahistorical restriction on reporting,” and for presidential officials involved in the decision to step down.

“The presidential plane is operated with taxpayers’ money and each media outlet pays with its own money to cover reporting costs,” they said.

“Reporting information and monitoring how the President, as a public figure, discharges his public responsibilities and duties is an essential part of democracy. We cannot suppress our astonishment that the President’s office confuses the use of the presidential aircraft by journalists with the use of private property and sees it as charity donated by Yoon Suk Yeol the individual,” the statement read.

The groups likened the incident to when the White House, under former US President Donald Trump, suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press card after he had a heated conversation with Trump at a press 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 to control the media”. They said their reporters would use commercial flights to cover meetings in Southeast Asia.

Seoul’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club released a statement saying “restrictions imposed on an outlet for coverage deemed ‘distorted’ raises concerns for the freedom of all press, domestic and foreign.”

He called for all media to be treated with the “same principles of access, regardless of tone or nature of journalistic coverage”.

In September, MBC filmed Yoon talking to aides and senior diplomats after a brief chat with Biden on the sidelines of UN General Assembly meetings.

While the audio was unclear, Yoon could be heard using what appeared to be indecent language in the comments, which the broadcaster captioned, “It wouldn’t be too embarrassing for Biden if those idiots from the legislature did not approve?

Yoon’s meeting with Biden came after they 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 is awaiting congressional approval. Yoon’s government pledged $100 million.

Yoon’s office later insisted he wasn’t talking about the US Congress or Biden. Kim Eun-hye, Yoon’s spokesman, said he feared South Korea’s opposition-controlled National Assembly might reject his $100 million contribution plan.

She insisted that the word heard by MBC as Biden was actually “nal-li-myeon,” a phrase that can be used to describe something being thrown around.

After returning to Seoul, Yoon said the media could put South Korea’s security at risk by “damaging the alliance with information that differs from the facts.” He has not yet clarified whether he described South Korean lawmakers as “idiots”.

Yoon’s predecessors have also been accused of suppressing free speech.

Former liberal President Moon Jae-in has come under international criticism after members of his ruling party in 2019 singled out a South Korean-born Bloomberg reporter for what they called an article ” verging on treason”, leading to threats to the safety of the journalist.

The headline of the article described Moon as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “main spokesperson” at the United Nations General Assembly and described his efforts to salvage failed nuclear diplomacy with the North.

Under Moon’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye, prosecutors indicted a Japanese journalist for defaming Park by citing salacious rumors about her whereabouts the day a ferry sank 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 turning major news networks into his spokespersons by filling their leadership with supporters and making them compete on a small number of new television licenses issued by his government. .

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