Police raid on MBC journalist prompts cries of retaliatory investigation

Posted on : 2023-05-31 17:18 KST Modified on : 2023-05-31 17:18 KST
The reporter allegedly shared documents with personal information about Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon with a YouTube news channel
MBC’s offices in Seoul.
MBC’s offices in Seoul.

Police have raided the home of a Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) reporter for allegedly giving a YouTube channel materials submitted by Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon to the National Assembly during his confirmation hearings.

This was the same MBC reporter that broke the story of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s hot mic gaffe while in New York last year, sparking controversy over whether the raid was retaliatory in nature, with some saying that questioning a reporter’s behavior in sharing verification data on a high-ranking official is going too far.

The anti-corruption and public crime investigation division of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on Tuesday morning that it had seized the personal cell phone of MBC reporter surnamed Lim, 42, and searched their home and vehicle to secure relevant data.

The National Assembly Secretariat was also searched and seized. Police believe that materials submitted by Han to the National Assembly for his confirmation hearings were leaked to the outside world through Lim and others.

Police also tried to raid the department Lim belongs to at the MBC office building in the Sangam neighborhood of Seoul’s Mapo District, but were only able to check the area around Lim’s desk while accompanied by MBC’s legal counsel.

“There was nothing to seize, so we withdrew from the building,” the police said.

The case began in April when Kim Min-seok, a member of the Gangseo District Council (independent), accused an individual surnamed Seo of violating the Personal Information Protection Act after he obtained a document containing the personal information of a Cabinet minister through the individual.

Kim claimed that Seo had kept a copy of Han’s resident registration card and real estate sales contract. The police had already raided Seo’s home, and in the process confirmed their connection to Lim, prompting them to commence another raid.

The police believe that Lim handed over the data to Yeollin Gonggam TV, a YouTube news channel, via messenger, which was then passed on to Seo, who was working for the channel at the time.

“If the data was shared within MBC, it may not have been a problem, but since it was shared with a third-party company, it could be an issue,” said lawyer Kim Han-kyu. “Until the National Assembly receives the data, the reporter’s actions can be considered as legitimate reporting activity. Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue for the freedom to hand over the data to a third party.”

However, the idea that materials submitted for a confirmation hearing are protected by the Personal Information Protection Act is likely to be controversial.

“It is a formal violation of the law, but it is not the kind of violation that the Personal Information Protection Act anticipates,” said a former deputy chief judge who now works as a lawyer. “The law punishes those who misuse personal information. The media makes reports based on personal information, therefore making it the responsibility of the media.”

“The Personal Information Protection Act is a law that regulates those who manage and process personal information so that they do not leak such private information,” said lawyer Kim Ki-jung. “It does not give public officials the right to hide [from media scrutiny].”

The main issue will be whether the activities of Yeollin Gonggam TV and the Citizen Press the Tamsa are to be considered legitimate journalistic activities.

Lim was accused of defaming Yoon by the People Power Party in 2022 for reporting the president’s hot mic gaffe during his visit to the US.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of this being a retaliatory investigation, as the reporter in question was a defendant and was accused in September 2022 for reporting on President Yoon’s use of profanity,” the MBC headquarters of the National Union of Mediaworkers said in a statement.

“We will judge this raid as the beginning of the administration’s suppression of MBC and respond decisively,” the union added.

MBC also called it “doubtful” that such a large number of people would have been mobilized over a leak of information of a public figure had the figure not been a key player in the current administration as Han is.

“We will not give in to threats and will continue to carry out our mission silently while standing tall and proud,” the broadcaster stated.

By Kim Ga-yoon, staff reporter; Choi Sung-jin, staff reporter; Jung Eun-ju, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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