On the evening of November 9, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) journalists and media workers were notified by the Office of the President that they would not be allowed to board President Yoon’s flight due to the broadcaster’s alleged ‘distorted’ coverage of diplomatic affairs. President Yoon justified his decision by citing national security concerns.
In response eight major media rights organisations, including the JAK, called the incident unconstitutional and historically unprecedented. The groups also called for the responsible presidential office officials to resign and highlighted the distinct risks such a precedent would set to press freedom and democracy in the country.
Two Seoul Based newspapers, Hankyoreh and Kyungyang Shinmun subsequently declined to take their seats on the flight in protest of MBC’s treatment, calling the decision ‘undemocratic’. The Seoul Foreign Correspondent’s Club also expressed its concerns, reiterating the importance of universal press freedom. Representatives from the ruling People Power Party (PPP) defended the party’s decision and continued attempts to discredit the broadcaster, while also claiming the right to refuse journalists from the plane.
The PPP has antagonised and targeted MBC since a ‘hot-mic’ incident in September when the broadcaster was one of several news outlets with access to live microphone recordings from President Yoon. In its live broadcast, the MBC captioned the president as producing derogatory and crude remarks towards US President Joe Biden, which PPP heavily disputed. Yoon and PPP lawmakers have since instigated legal and regulatory action against the broadcaster and conducted protests demanding a change in MBC leadership.
President Yoon attended the ASEAN + 3 summit which ran from November 8-13 in Cambodia, and the G20 summit in Indonesia which ran from November 15-16. Despite their barring, MBC journalists and media workers were present at both summits.
In a statement, JAK with seven other media organisations, said: “This case is a direct challenge to the basic democratic order of guaranteeing freedom of the press that transcends political parties […] President Yoon Suk-Yeol should immediately cancel the anti-constitutional and anti-historical restrictions on reporting and apologise in front of the people.”
The IFJ said: “The Republic of Korea has a proud history of democracy and press freedom that must be defended. President Yoon’s continued targeting of MBC sets a dangerous precedent. The Korean media has rightly defended its media freedom and the IFJ commends ongoing solidarity efforts from journalists and media workers to call out government acts of intimidation and censorship through attempts to block media access.”