Sankei report on president dubbed ‘defamation’

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Sankei report on president dubbed ‘defamation’

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se met with his Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of a regional meeting to condemn a controversial article published by the Japanese-language Sankei Shimbun on President Park Geun-hye’s private life, calling it “defamation.”

Yun and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida had a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum in Myanmar for an hour on Saturday. Their meeting came 11 months after they had bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September 2013.

“I think it was very regrettable that the Sankei [Shimbun] published a malicious article citing groundless rumors and seriously defaming the dignity of a leader of a neighboring country,” Yun said according to Seoul officials.

“When we recall Korea-Japan relations for the past year, there was more bad news [than good news],” he said. “I ask Japanese leaders to exercise wisdom and political influence to seek an exit from the dark tunnel of Korea-Japan relations.”

Kishida briefly responded to criticism of the article, saying “We are closely watching the situation regarding it.”

The Japanese minister added: “Let’s make efforts to mark the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties between the two countries.”

The Japanese daily published a report on Aug. 3 entitled, “President Park Geun-hye, missing on the day of the ferry’s sinking … With whom did she meet at the time?”

The Japanese article cited a recent assembly hearing attended by the president’s chief secretary, Kim Ki-choon, a column from the Chosun Ilbo and unidentified sources in Korea’s financial industry.

It quoted comments by Park’s chief secretary, who said at the hearing on July 7 that he had “no idea of the whereabouts of the president for seven hours during the day on April 16,” the day the Sewol ferry sank off Korea’s southwest, killing more than 300 people.

The article also referred to a Chosun Ilbo column that said Park was “allegedly meeting with a secret guest” at the time of the tragedy.

“An official in [the Korean] financial sector says that was related to a relationship between President Park and a man,” the article said, citing unconfirmed sources. “The man was a former aide to her in the Saenuri Party, married and has his own wife at the time.”

The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office yesterday summoned the article’s author, Sankei Seoul Bureau Chief Tatsuya Kato, for questioning on Aug. 12 and banned him from travelling abroad until its investigation of potential defamation against him is concluded.

The article started making waves in Korea last week after two local civic groups filed a defamation suit against Kato last week. Their suit is separate from the investigation being done by the prosecutors. The Sankei Shimbun criticized the probe in an article Saturday citing comments from its own Tokyo bureau chief, Takeshi Kobayashi, who said, “The article just introduced various sources and the Chosun Ilbo column.”

Despite the furor in Korea, the Sankei Shimbun has not pulled the article from its Japanese-language website. The Blue House was also mulling a strong response to the article. Sources told the JoongAng Ilbo that the president was supposed to propose a future-oriented vision for developing Korea-Japan relations in a speech marking the Aug. 15 Liberation Day. Yoon Doo-hyun, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs, told reporters last week the Blue House would “take grave action” against the newspaper.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]







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