President Yoon Suk Yeol banned MBC reporters from boarding the presidential jet as a part of his official trip to South East Asia, drawing international criticism for his attempt to suppress the freedom of media.
According to reports, the president’s office informed the South Korean broadcasting company MBC that its reporters wouldn’t be allowed to join him on the country’s Air Force One on November 11 when it departs for his overseas trip. The president’s office cited “national interest” as the cause behind this restriction. MBC has stated that they would report via other means, but the decision will deprive the network of in-flight briefings and other opportunities.
The boarding of the presidential jet has been a service provided to help with coverage of foreign policy and security issues, and in consideration of MBC’s repeated distorted and biased coverage of foreign policy issues recently, we have decided not to provide the service.
— President Yoon’s Office, Yonhap News Agency
Though the president’s office didn’t specify which reports MBC had distorted to lead to the ban, people are guessing that it was the hot mic moment of president Yoon’s New York trip in September. He was caught making harsh comments about the U.S. lawmakers, which MBC broadcasted, indicating he was talking about the U.S. Congress under President Joe Biden. The president’s representatives contested MBC’s report saying that the comments were taken out of context and some parts were inaudible. They denied that president Yoon was making insulting remarks about Washington at all.
#Gravitas | South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (President_KR) was caught abusing US lawmakers on a 'hot mic' after his informal talks with US President @JoeBiden. @MollyGambhir brings you past instances when world leaders were caught on hot mics pic.twitter.com/Ba4qWEZn8C
— WION (@WIONews) September 23, 2022
On November 11, Friday president Yoon is commencing his trip to Cambodia and Indonesia to attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting and a Group of 20 summits. MBC’s exclusion from this trip has prompted large-scale media backlash. A statement from the Journalists Association of Korea and other groups condemned the act, calling it an “Unprecedented suppression of the press.”
If the Yoon Suk Yeol administration does not take reasonable measures, we will define the latest situation as a grave threat to freedom of the press and democracy, and are willing to go on a full-scale war with the government,
— National Union of Media Workers
The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club (SFCC) also issued a statement expressing concern over the decision.
Restrictions placed on one outlet for coverage deemed to ‘distorted’ raise concerns for the freedom of all press, domestic and foreign.
The board will monitor developments closely and expects that moving forward all media will be treated equally with the principles of access regardless of the tone and nature of the journalistic coverage.
Former MBC investigative reporter Lee Sang Ho called president Yoon’s press pool to boycott his Southeast Asia trip coverage. A joint statement from the press pool followed, demanding that MBC be allowed to board the jet with the president. However, the statement steered clear of any mentions of press freedom. Korean media outlets Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Shinmun also announced their decision not to board the presidential jet in protest of the incident. The reporters will be taking a commercial flight instead.