It’s time for a press conference

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It’s time for a press conference

Psychological factors play a big part in national governance, especially at times of crisis. That’s why media experts highlight the significance of public relations under such circumstances. But President Park Geun-hye is losing her PR battle against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which began with a critical mismatch from the outset.

Health Minister Moon Hyung-pyo actually has no professional specialty in infectious diseases despite his frequent press conferences. He’s an expert on welfare and pension policies.

And Choi Kyung-hwan, who just took the helm of the central control system to combat MERS, is an economic bureaucrat. At the same time, the leaders of the Center for Disease Control and the National Medical Center have only spoken rarely.

At the height of a national crisis like the MERS outbreak, the president must serve as the chief commander when it comes to psychological warfare. President Park Geun-hye should have held a nationally televised address at the outbreak’s initial stages. It certainly would have been better if she had introduced a full lineup of government warriors in the battle against MERS, tapped a leader for the central command and cited experts before letting them explain this potentially fatal disease.

Why does the president not hold a press conference? In the aftermath of the Sewol ferry tragedy last year, she did not hold a press conference except to release a short televised statement.

In the parliamentary system, the prime minister explains to the legislature every aspect of his or her governance when the need arises. Countries under presidential systems like ours are no different, as evidenced by U.S. President Barack Obama, who visits the White House press briefing room like it’s his own living room.

Our citizens don’t expect the president’s effort in combatting the MERS outbreak to be impeccable; they only want to see that she is effectively mobilizing professionals in the government and civilian sectors to curb its spread. Her father, President Park Chung Hee, was no expert when it came to many issues. But he ordered his ministers to answer tricky questions on his behalf and to encourage them to tackle challenges while reassuring the public.

President Park presided over a meeting with her senior secretaries, in which she discussed the ramifications of the virus, to outline countermeasures at the Blue House and beyond. She also visited a hospital equipped with a quarantine ward. But she has failed to effectively communicate with a scared public. Close contact with MERS patients is advised against, but she needs to find a way to get closer to the people to properly explain her plans. We are looking forward to seeing our president speak with confidence, albeit not necessarily with expertise, at an official press conference.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 12, Page 30

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