PR tricks in time of crisis
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It has become a new daily routine to watch CNN after getting out of bed before sunrise. Information on the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the United States is important, but the heated battle between U.S. President Donald Trump and reporters is as hot as a soccer match between Korea and Japan. Since declaring a national emergency three weeks ago, Trump has taken the podium in the briefing room of the White House every day around the same time. Press questions are sharp and thorny. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, accompanies Trump at the briefing, and he often points out the president’s exaggerations and corrects them. Trump often stands down.
President Moon Jae-in, in his inaugural speech, promised to hold press conferences frequently and personally explain issues to the people. But we have never seen him doing so. We probably won’t see it until the end of this administration. The Moon administration is pretending to be flawless with a shameless face. The Blue House used to rely on appealing to the people’s emotions and praising itself. These days, it is using dirty PR tricks and distorted facts.
The Blue House distorted the graphs of the numbers of patients and cured patients. It was a fake news that Korean coronavirus test kits were pre-approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The government offered excerpts from foreign media reports, excluding criticisms.
It is not just this administration that uses confirming opinion polls as if they are the public sentiment. But the practice has become more serious than ever in this administration. It used the strategy to dismantle the reservoirs of the four major river projects, to establish the new investigation agency for senior public servants and to scrap the system of autonomous private high schools. It used the strategy to attack the prosecution’s investigation into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk.
It, however, never quoted the opposition to the nuclear phase-out policy, income-led growth and real estate policy reflected in the polls.
It is, therefore, impossible to believe the announcement that the presidential approval rating is going up and the ruling party will likely win in the capital region in the upcoming general elections. Recently, two media companies commissioned the same polling company to conduct separate polls. The outcomes were announced on the same day, but the results were opposite. A candidate’s approval rating was different in the two polls by 10 percentage points. Both polls said their margin of error was about 4 percentage points. This is a comedy. But the government has no plan to improve the situation. It actually praises biased opinion polls as if they are guidelines for governance.
This is the starting point of a crisis. The government is blaming the coronavirus outbreak for all hardships the country is facing, and it is blaming the Shincheonji religion for the rapid spread of the disease. It kept the doors open to China, but insisted that Korean people have brought in the disease from China. In order to justify its argument, it is now imposing two-week compulsory self-isolation.
Travelers from Korea are banned from entering many other countries, but it is still leaving the door open to China, because it cannot contradict itself now. A survey of the Korean Medical Association, however, expressed the opposite opinion. Seven out of 10 doctors said the government’s countermeasures against the outbreak were wrong, and 84 percent said Korea should have banned all entry from China in the early days of the outbreak.
The nuclear phase-out policy is also another example of the contradiction. Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction, which recorded hundreds of billions of won in profits annually, is not in a crisis because of the coronavirus outbreak. It now needs to repay 800 billion won in debts before the end of this year, and this means that 1 trillion won is not enough to save the company.
Everyone knows that the government must give up the nuclear phase-out policy to save the company. That is the majority opinion. But the government doesn’t seem to have such an intention. The Citizen Party, a de facto satellite offshoot of the ruling Democratic Party, nominated a hardline anti-nuclear energy activist as one of the top candidates. “Politics to stop nuclear plants is my goal,” she once said.
Why is the government pouring money to save Doosan Heavy Industries? It pretends to support the company and to care about the regional economy, but the relief package to help Doosan Heavy Industries is just a campaign strategy to win votes in South Gyeongsang.
“We are facing an unprecedented emergency, so countermeasures must go beyond limits.” Moon has said.