Communications matterDuring his election campaign, President Moon Jae-in repeatedly promised that his administration would be different from the Park Geun-hye administration, particularly in terms of communication with the public. The 100th day anniversary of Moon’s inauguration is drawing near, but Blue House correspondents say the lack of access to information is no different from during the Park presidency.
In those days, the public really wondered why she was so protective of her three Blue House confidantes and what she was actually doing in her private residence. Reporters had no opportunity to ask such questions of the president. Park held on four press conferences and they were strictly controlled. Reporters asked questions that were pre-arranged with the Blue House, and the president mechanically read answers prepared for her. It is no surprise that such press conferences were meaningless.
When Park faced a surprise question, she often criticized the reporter by saying, “Only you are interested in such a matter.” When a presidential aide mistakenly answered a phone call from a reporter, she yelled at the aide for responding to a journalist. The disgrace and downfall of Park was predestined.
But communication remains remains a problem in the Moon administration. After taking office, Moon spent his first weekend hiking with reporters and exchanged conversation freely. The press had high hopes that the era had finally arrived in which reporters could freely ask questions of our president. Since then, Moon has never held a press conference of such a freewheeling nature.
So far, he visited the Chunchugwan press center of the Blue House three times. His first visit was on May 10, when he announced the nomination of Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon. The second was on May 19 when he nominated Constitutional Court Chief Justice Kim Yi-su, and the third was on May 21 when he announced the nomination of Kim Dong-yeon as the deputy prime minister for the economy.
His appearances were refreshing but Moon took reporters’ questions only once, when he nominated Kim as chief justice of the Constitutional Court. Reporters had no opportunity to ask Moon questions in the following public events, such as what he thinks about the scandal-plagued appointments of Tak Hyun-min and Park Ky-young as his aides.
Blue House aides are also dodging communication. Most senior secretaries, including Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok, do not answer reporters’ phone calls. After Moon’s controversial minister nominees gave up their nominations, reporters demanded to talk to Cho Kuk, senior secretary for civil affairs, who oversaw the vetting process. There was no reply.
When the press asked why aides are not answering their phone calls, they replied that they do not want to selectively answer calls for the sake of fairness.
Until the end of the Kim Dae-jung administration, reporters were allowed to visit offices of senior secretaries for about an hour a day and asked them about pending issues. The press used the opportunities to understand what was going on inside the presidential office.
President Roh Moo-hyun blocked Blue House correspondents from entering the secretaries’ offices, promising routine briefings. Reporters were trapped in the press center and all they could do was write articles based on the statements read by the spokesperson.
The reporters of the Park Blue House were called “accomplices” in the scandal that took her down because they didn’t even know of the existence of Choi Soon-sil. The Moon administration is maintaining they same problematic system.
Two regular briefings a day and background briefings, in addition to occasional roundtable talks with visiting secretaries, are the only opportunity for reporters to get information. Most of the time, the roundtable talks are off-the-record. They are not enough to answer all the questions. If the Moon administration truly wants to communicate, it must allow reporters to visit the secretaries’ offices for at least 30 minutes a day. Furthermore, the president must hold press conferences more often.
Moon will hold a press event next week to mark the 100th anniversary of inauguration. If the Blue House makes reporters submit questions in advance — like Moon’s predecessors did — it will be a useless event. Reporters should be free to ask questions. That’s the true attitude of a president who wishes to communicate with the people.
JoongAng Ilb, Aug. 11, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.