A critical contradictionA press officer for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has crossed the line on freedom of speech. He singled out a reporter who wrote an article titled “South Korea’s Moon Becomes Kim Jong Un’s Top Spokesman at UN” last September, and described the journalist as a “traitor.” That constitutes a brazen challenge to the freedom of the press. Lee Hae-sik, the press officer in question, must withdraw his offensive accusation and apologize for it.
It all began with a speech by Rep. Na Kyung-won, floor leader of the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), at the National Assembly on March 12, in which she compared President Moon Jae-in to a “top spokesman of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un” given his pro-North approach since taking office in 2017. After Na’s remarks stirred controversy, the press officer criticized the reporter — a Korean who works for Bloomberg — for insulting a head of state “under the cloak of foreign media.”
Following an angry statement from the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club (SFCC), the Seoul branch of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) also released a statement urging the press officer to retract his words. Expressing deep concerns about the case, the AAJA described it as an act controlling the freedom of speech.
Political parties and politicians can complain about media reports regardless of the correspondent’s nationality. The press officer should have expressed regrets by following standard procedures. His branding of the reporter as a traitor by singling out her Korean nationality is outrageous. Would he do the same if the correspondent was American? The press officer’s description of the reporter as a “dark-haired foreign correspondent” explicitly shows how he perceives foreign correspondents who happen to have Korean nationality.
The ruling party’s reactions pose a serious threat to freedom of speech. We wonder what difference there is between the current liberal administration and past conservative administrations, which it attacks so often. The ruling camp is still stuck in the old mindset of not allowing any criticism of the government due to its self-righteousness.
The DP takes pride in taking power after a long battle against dictatorship. How can it explain the contradiction now? The Blue House under former president Park Geun-hye accused a Sankei Shimbun reporter of defaming her. At the time, Moon, an opposition lawmaker, denounced that by saying, “Criticism and a close watch on public figures should be allowed to the maximum level.” He must remember his own words.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 20, Page 30