Back to the doorstep

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

Back to the doorstep

Ko Jung-ae
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is possible to make a decision with good intentions, but good intentions aren’t everything. This came to my mind as I read that President Yoon Suk-yeol had decided to stop his “doorstep interviews” with reporters when he reports to work each morning.

“Is everyone’s desk ready?” President Yoon asked reporters when he met them on the morning of May 11, as he went to the presidential office the day after his inauguration. “Your inaugural speech had no mention of ‘unity’,” a reporter commented and asked him why. “[I didn’t include it] because it was such an obvious concept. The entire process of politics is a process of national unity,” Yoon said.

Such an impromptu interview was the first of its kind in the history of Korea’s democracy. It should be remembered as a historic moment as it was impossible during the time when the president was living and working in the Blue House. At that time, reporters knew the president’s schedule only after it was announced. There was no way to know if the president stayed in the residence of the Blue House all day long. Interactions with journalists were only possible during a press conference. A spin doctor of the Moon Jae-in administration recently criticized Yoon for having stopped the doorstep interview and said, “President Moon conducted press conferences without prepared scripts.” It was not a proper criticism since Moon held only a few press conferences throughout his five-year term.

It may seem unreal, but the doorstep session is a system comparable to that of the U.S. and the UK. As it is more unconventional in some ways, the interviews can be a problem for the president. Yoon voluntarily gave up the “power of silence,” a privilege of past presidents.

The difference in Yoon’s practice was clear when we compared it to the systems in America and Britain. Let’s see the composition of the White House Press Corp first. The briefing room there has 49 seats and they are given to 65 media companies. Veteran reporters of major media, including AP, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, the New York Times and the Washington Post are the members. Most of them were members of the White House press corps for many administrations. The late Helen Thomas, who covered the White House during the administrations of 10 presidents for 40 years, wrote in her biography, “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times,” that the White House’s attempts to control media reports were frequent whenever a new president took office.

Even the members of the White House press corps do not ask questions and get answers all the time. President Donald Trump, who loved to fight with the media, was an exception, and incumbent President Joe Biden has few interviews.

In the UK, about 400 reporters are accredited to the “Lobby,” the press gallery of the parliament. They are all seasoned journalists from major media including the BBC. But they don’t have routine meetings with the prime minister.

Can you see how bold the doorstep interview is? In addition, it is even less authoritarian and hierarchical. Most reporters have no or little experience in covering the presidential office. They may be passionate, but their experiences and perspectives are limited. They are covering the presidential office as if they were covering the National Assembly. Since the reporters had not fought for the Q&A session with Yoon — it was just given to them — they probably acted as they did before.

The president might have felt that his good intentions were not appreciated. It must have been Yoon’s intention to keep it going. “Many said my approval ratings are dropping because of the doorstep interview and recommended me to stop it, but that’s why I moved the presidential office to Yongsan and we are in the process of creating a new culture of the presidency,” Yoon said.

We should not miss an opportunity to create a new culture of Korean presidency. Yoon must remember his first impulse and the reasons for it, however much trouble the sessions eventually gave him. Reporters are also responsible for the writing of history. No matter what format it will be, the doorstep communication between Yoon and reporters should continue.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)