Meet the press, Mr. PresidentWhile stressing the importance of communication with the people, President Lee Myung-bak has had few, if any, proper press conferences during the past three years. The media conferences he had on about 20 occasions fell short of our expectations because most of them were oriented toward promoting government policies or answering only a few questions about the results of summits with foreign leaders. Journalists generally could not freely ask any questions about what mistakes the administration made or what improvements need to be made.
Even after national security crises like North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan warship or its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, the president only read through a prepared script without taking real questions. In contrast, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush released his first statement 49 minutes after the attacks, addressed the nation after 12 hours and held a press conference the next day.
Although the media has consistently criticized Lee for the lack of press conferences, the president announced that he will appear on a TV interview program tomorrow morning - for convenience - rather than holding a press conference.
Having a TV interview instead of a broader press conference was reportedly the idea of his staff, and the Blue House took the initiative not only in selecting the interviewer but designing and planning the script as well.
This type of interview makes it really difficult for the press to deal with what can be identified as the weak points of the administration, such as persistent controversies over the president’s remarks shortly after the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island; the nomination of his former aide Chung Dong-ki as head of the Board of Audit and Inspection; the Blue House’s surveillance on the lives of private citizens; and its incompetence in coping with the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak. Such mysteries can’t be cleared up when the press cannot enjoy a free exchange of questions and answers.
The president should graciously welcome questions on any subject, just as former U.S. President Bill Clinton took relentless questions about the Monica Lewinsky scandal even during overseas trips, which he didn’t dodge. President Lee may not welcome such frank questions. But the public is watching his sincerity closely. If he has made mistakes, he should admit them and come up with ways to correct them. This year, many issues are waiting for his answers. He should not hesitate.