[Column] Yoon’s war on Korea’s free press earns him headlines in global news outlets

Posted on : 2023-12-18 18:13 KST Modified on : 2023-12-18 18:13 KST
More and more foreign news outlets have been turning their attention to the Yoon administration’s attempts to gag the press
Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com
Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com

“The unpopular government of South Korea's Conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, elected in 2022, is returning to past practices of censorship and media control.”

On Dec. 4, the influential French newspaper Le Monde published an article on media suppression in South Korea. The article came out shortly after Yoon visited France to support a bid to host the World Expo.

Titled “The return of media censorship in South Korea,” the article lists a series of incidents that it characterizes as a high-handed attempt to seize control of broadcasting, including the appointment of Park Min as president of the KBS network, the firing of news presenter Lee So-jung, and the cancellation of current affairs programs such as “The Live” and “Ju Jin-u Live.”

It also quotes Democratic Party floor leader Hong Ihk-pyo as likening the situation to a military coup such as the one that happened in South Korea in May 1961.

The article refers to the creation of a “dedicated fake news review center” within the Korea Communications Standards Commission as something that would have been unthinkable in the past, with the aim of using the “war on fake news” as a pretext for controlling television broadcasting and YouTube content. It further mentions Yoon exercising his veto powers on a Broadcast Act amendment that would have restricted government interference in public broadcasting.

More and more foreign news outlets have been turning their attention to the Yoon administration’s attempts to gag the press. It’s a sign that the recent situation in South Korea is abnormal enough to qualify as international news.

On Nov. 11, the New York Times published a front-page story in its international edition under the title “South Korea Targets ‘Fake News,’ But Journalists Fear Censorship.”

The article makes reference to repeated raids by police and prosecutors on media companies and the homes of journalists since the former prosecutor took office as president — a situation it describes as nearly without precedent since South Korea became a democracy.

On Dec. 7, the US state-run Voice of America news outlet observed that the Yoon administration was lodging criminal defamation complaints against critical journalists and media at a record rate.

The New Yorker, an eminent US current affairs weekly, published an article on Sept. 30 entitled “The Worrying Democratic Erosions in South Korea,” in which it observed, “For many, Yoon’s self-absorption and eagerness to target the media are reminiscent of the country’s mid-century military dictatorship, which lasted until the nineteen-eighties.”

In the West, press freedoms are particularly valued as a core requirement for democracy to function. This is also the reason for the reports in question insinuating a “return to dictatorship.”

On the diplomatic stage, Yoon has taken seemingly every opportunity to talk about “freedom.” In addition to their message of concern, the articles that are appearing in the Western press also carry a note of ridicule.

By Park Yong-hyoun, editorial writer

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

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