On Aug. 28, at a party banquet, President Yoon Suk-yeol criticized the opposition party and the media, saying, “The opposition supporters are controlling the media, so they constantly curse the government 24 hours a day.” This narrow-minded media view, where the president of a country simply views criticism of the government as a curse, seems to echo the words of a tyrannical king. It is clear why President Yoon does not take into account his constitutional obligation to guarantee freedom of the press and has no awareness of the far-reaching consequences of his words and actions that undermine the independence of the press.
At the beginning of his tenure, Yoon pointed out the lack of communication of the previous president with the public, and he conducted door stepping 61 times over a total of 6 months emphasizing “communication with the people.” After his disappointing performance of not living up to his campaign promises, convictions and courage at the beginning of his tenure, Yoon restricted questions from reporters and demanded discipline from MBC reporters. It was a remarkable U-turn suspending doorstepping indefinitely and igniting the controversy over taming the press. Remarkably, the presidential office did not hold a press conference even once for 100 days after the suspension. To add to the rage, journalists who reported on the suspicion that shamans had visited the candidate site for the presidential residence were reported to the police. A high-ranking official in the presidential office said, “Should not there be additional measures by the reporters to be able to resume press conferences and other media activities?” Reporters interpreted this as meaning that press conferences could only be resumed if measures such as disciplinary action or restriction of access were taken against the controversial MBC reporter by fellow reporters. Contrary to the words that emphasized communication on the surface, these moves cannot avoid the criticism that they are in fact not interested in communication at all.
What followed was a staggering crack down on the liberal media. In May, Yoon dismissed the chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) appointed by the previous administration, and dismissed the KBS director in July. In addition, at the end of July, the KCC notified the chairman of KBS and the director of EBS of impending dismissal hearing procedures. Subsequently, on Aug. 1, Yoon nominated Lee Dong-gwan as the new chairman of the KCC. On the 2, the KCC began the process of dismissing the chairman and directors of the Foundation for Broadcast Culture (FBC), which is the largest shareholder of MBC. Five days after the procedure started, the director of FBC voluntarily resigned, and 12 days later, Yoon dismissed the chairman of KBS and the director of EBS. On the 17, the chairman and vice chairman of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) appointed by the previous administration were dismissed, and a new chairman was appointed a day later. On the 21, the KCC voted on the dismissal of the chairman of the FBC, and recommended a person who served as a KBS director during the Lee Myung-bak regime as a substitute director. On the same day, in front of the president’s office, former and current directors of KBS, the KCC, and EBS said, “The KCC completely neglected all legal directions and procedures and pushed for the dismissal of directors as if it were a military operation.”
Finally, on the 25, Yoon eventually pushed ahead with the appointment of Lee, chairman of the KCC. During Yoon’s one-year and four-month reign, 16 high-ranking officials were appointed without a parliamentary hearing report, and the same is true of Chairman Lee. Lee started as a spokesman for the Blue House during the MB era and served as a senior secretary for public relations and a special media adviser, and is called the closest ally among those in pro-MB circles. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Lee and other MB figures operated a “media control system” and mobilized the National Intelligence Service to classify so-called “left-wing broadcasting hosts” and ask for documents containing ways to remove them. At that time, Blue House Spokesperson Lee from the Spokesperson’s Office produced a document titled “MBC News Desk Report Analysis” and wrote about MBC that “out of the 3 broadcasting companies, the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project were raised first, and they are reporting from a problematic point of view every day.” In particular, while reporting on the project, it was analyzed that “They are raising suspicions about the re-promotion of the Grand Canal.” Regarding reports related to the president, “stock remarks, property return, etc. The president’s remarks were illuminated in detail, and criticism was repeatedly given through the anchor’s closing remarks.” The spokesperson’s office evaluated that news related to the president's aides tended to be treated more sensitively than other companies. Furthermore, they classified and organized the Problem Reporting” that they were judged to be unfavorable to the regime. It seems as if they are adopting the MB version of the narrow-minded media view that simply accepts Yoon’s criticism of the regime as insults. The National Union of Media criticized Lee for “serving as MB’s press advisor, inspecting the media world, intervening in personnel affairs at broadcasting companies, instigating the dismissal of journalists, and creating a conservative comprehensive program through snatching.” Lee was the instigator who led the control and oppression of the media for 3 years and 5 months under the MB regime.
Lee repeatedly revealed his biased view of the media, for example describing “public broadcasting” as “union broadcasting” at the National Assembly confirmation hearing. In his inaugural address, he set out to reform the broadcasting structure of public broadcasting, the union broadcasting, and argued that the biggest problem of public broadcasting was its independence from the union. Such remarks are no different from President Yoon’s suppression of labor unions and his biased view of the press. How can the result of trying to defend liberal democracy be the control of the media? The old adage of “History repeats itself” seems to be true. Now, the history of media control in Korea is indeed repeating itself.