Caught red-handedRep. Yoon Young-chan, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and former senior presidential secretary for communications, was caught giving orders to an aide via an instant messaging platform to complain about news coverage by an internet portal, stirring controversy. Yoon, a member of the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee in the National Assembly, wrote, “Bring Kakao over here and strongly complain!” about its “unfair posting” of news about DP Chairman Lee Nak-yon’s speech in the legislature on Monday. On the following day, Kakao put a speech by Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the opposition People Power Party (PPP), at the top of its main news page shortly after his address. That annoyed Yoon.
There have been suspicions about the DP and the government’s alleged meddling in news coverage by internet portals since the launch of the Moon Jae-in administration in 2017. Now, the interference has been captured by the cameras for the first time, in an administration that claimed to champion freedom of speech.
Before joining the Blue House three years ago, Yoon worked as vice president of Naver, the No.1 portal in Korea. The PPP claims he delivered the complaint through one of his aides, who had worked with him in the Blue House. The main opposition party has called for Yoon’s resignation and a legislative probe into his influence-peddling as a lawmaker.
Yoon tried to excuse himself by raising the issue of fairness because “Chairman Lee’s speech did not appear on Kakao’s main news page while opposition floor leader Joo’s address did.” Yoon also insisted on his right to “express my personal opinion about the critical imbalance.”
But it turned out that news articles on Lee’s speech had been posted on Kakao’s main news page several times Monday.
Legal circles believe that if the placement of news articles really changed after Rep. Yoon’s pressure, that could constitute an obstruction of business, which is a crime. In fact, former Rep. Lee Jung-hyun was fined 10 million won ($8,420) for pressuring KBS to not broadcast its news on the Sewol ferry tragedy during prime time when he served as a senior presidential secretary for communications in the Park Geun-hye Blue House.
Rumors about the government pressuring portals to cover suspicious cases involving government officials are spreading fast. How often Yoon delivered his opinion to portals should be cleared up quickly. That’s the way to save our democracy.