[Reporter’s notebook] Why the Korean public has to learn their president’s views through the foreign press

Posted on : 2015-06-15 16:45 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
President Park Geun-hye rarely gives press conferences and has done no interviews with domestic media

There’s a reason President Park Geun-hye avoids press conferences like the plague, and the South Korean public is well aware of what it is. As she approaches the midpoint of her five-year term, she has held exactly two press conferences in which she has answered questions from reporters. The number may be the lowest for any President in South Korean history apart from Rhee Syng-man, Yun Bo-son, or Choi Kyu-ha. No South Korean news outlet has yet done a one-on-one interview with Park. Instead of press conferences, she prefers to voice her views to the public through Blue House senior secretariat meetings and Cabinet meetings. Unlike reporters, senior secretaries and Cabinet ministers don’t ask questions.

But Park does give interviews to major overseas news outlets ahead of her trips abroad. It’s a similar approach to that of former South Korean presidents and heads of state overseas, but it is a positive development in terms of helping make her travels a success. At the same time, any response that Park delivers through overseas media has to be quoted by news outlets at home as if it were a foreign report.

On June 12, the The Washington Post quoted Park as saying there had been “considerable progress [with Japan] on the issue of the comfort women,” adding that “we are in the final stage of our negotiations.” The remarks are big news for the domestic audience, raising hopes for a new breakthrough in recently frosty relations with Tokyo. Elsewhere in the interview, Park made her first comment to date on the possible deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which has emerged as the top diplomatic issue of the moment in relations with Washington and Beijing.

The South Korean public is now in the position of having to learn such important news through the foreign press - and in translation at that. The Blue House has yet to provide a Korean-language text for the words and expressions used by Park in her Washington Post interview. South Korean news outlets have had to interpret Park’s responses - already translated into English by the newspaper - and translate them back into Korean. While the Washington Post used the English terms “final stage” and “considerable progress” to interpret Park’s original Korean-language remarks on the relations with Japan and the state of negotiations on the comfort women issue, there is no way of knowing whether the Korean expressions carried the same connotations. Even her predecessor Lee Myung-bak provided Korean-language interview transcripts to the local press. For now, it’s impossible to know why this policy changed under Park, or who at the Blue House made the decision not to share the Korean versions.


By Seok Jin-hwan, Blue House correspondent

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

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