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Presidential office calls story targeting Yoon ‘worst fake news’

By Kim Arin

Published : Sept. 5, 2023 - 16:19

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Lee Dong-gwan, the head of the Korea Communications Commissions licensing and regulating broadcasters, attends a plenary session of the National Assembly communications committee on Monday. (Yonhap) Lee Dong-gwan, the head of the Korea Communications Commissions licensing and regulating broadcasters, attends a plenary session of the National Assembly communications committee on Monday. (Yonhap)

The Yoon Suk Yeol office said Tuesday a story featuring a former reporter suspected of having close ties to onetime presidential candidate and opposition leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung was “the worst fake news” from last year.

Days before the presidential election in March 2022, Kim Man-bae, the reporter in question, suggested that then-People Power Party candidate Yoon was behind a controversial urban development project in which key Lee aides are suspected of illicitly profiting from.

Kim is under investigation for allegedly having provided false information to an independent news outlet called Newstapa and paying the reporter approximately 165 million won ($124,000) in exchange for publishing the interview. He is currently facing trial over allegations he made some 89 billion won in profit from the city real estate project undertaken while Lee was mayor of Seongnam.

Following accusations by the presidential office, Newstapa issued a written statement later in the day apologizing for one of its reporters at the time taking the money from Kim. The outlet said in the statement it was not aware then that the ex-reporter was involved in the real estate project himself.

In response to a press question during a closed-door briefing, a senior Yoon official said the news story appeared to be the result of “collaborative political maneuvering” by suspects in the real estate project and the outlet.

“By attempting to paint Yoon as the suspect just a few days before the presidential election, they were maneuvering to defeat him using fabricated facts,” the official said. “Such politically motivated fake news is one of the biggest threats to democracy that mars the fair election processes.”

The official accused “some news outlets” of being responsible by picking up the “false story” published by Newstapa without checking the facts.

Tuesday’s remarks from Yoon’s office is its latest grievance with the press.

Lee Dong-gwan, Yoon’s newly appointed head of the Korea Communications Commission, which licenses and regulates broadcasters, has declared a war on fake news.

As a nominee, Lee told the National Assembly that it was “not entirely impossible to shut down public broadcasting companies” while referring to the Korea Broadcasting System, which has been accused of having a “pro-Democratic Party of Korea bias.”

He also suggested closing down news outlets for carrying inaccurate reports. “One fake story, and then you are out of business,” he said.

Speaking at special sessions gathering the entire ruling party on Aug. 28, Yoon himself claimed that the South Korean press was “dominated by the opposition supporters” and “bashing the administration all the time.”

Democratic Party lawmakers on the Assembly broadcasting and communications committee have slammed Lee for attacking freedom of the press with his threats to cancel public broadcasters for supposedly having a political bias.

Rep. Ko Min-jung, who was spokesperson for Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in, criticized Lee’s appointment as the incumbent administration’s attempt to rein in the press. “It reminds me of the 1980s when our government used to control what the press can and cannot report,” she told reporters.