President Yoon Suk-yeol resumed his morning press briefing after suspending it just a day earlier, hinting at a possible miscommunication within his office.
When reporters greeted Yoon at a distance of about seven or eight meters in the lobby of the presidential building on his way to his office on Tuesday morning, he stopped and said, “I heard you (some reporters) were confirmed as having COVID-19, so we recommend that you work from home as much as possible. But you all still came.”
Reporters were denied close access due to restrictions, and asked questions from a distance. One reporter asked, “How about interviews from this distance?”
Yoon replied, “If you have anything to ask, ask.”
When asked about COVID-19 quarantine measures, Yoon said, “The head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, the chairman of the national infectious disease response committee, and the vice minister of welfare came to the meeting yesterday. The basic policy will be decided at the meeting presided by the prime minister tomorrow.”
Regarding the economic situation, he said, “What is important is protecting people‘s livelihoods,” adding, “We need to make sure that people do not suffer economic damage.”
Yoon appeared lighthearted, smiling and saying, “You asked too many (questions).”
When asked whether he would do a morning briefing again tomorrow, he said, “Can’t we do it like this? If we agree, then let’s (have a full in-office press briefing) in a few days.”
Earlier on Monday, the spokesperson’s office said in a media notice, “We decided to temporarily stop the president’s in-office briefings as COVID-19 spreads,” adding, “We will also minimize the news pool of the president’s open event as much as possible.”
The office said the halt is due to coronavirus resurging among presidential office reporters. So far, 11 reporters covering the presidential office have been confirmed to have COVID-19.
After the news of the halt was reported, plenty of analysis poured out from commentators and politicians, linking the break to Yoon’s declining approval ratings and his unprepared remarks. Some have said Yoon should reduce the number of press briefings, while others said he should be more prepared. Some have said he should stop doing them altogether.
Former People Power Party floor leader Na Kyung-won was asked in a radio interview on Tuesday morning whether this was an opportunity to end the briefings altogether. She said no, saying: “Then it’s not going to be different from the imperial presidency.” She was referring to the previous Moon Jae-in administration, which Yoon has criticized as closed-off and uncommunicative with the general public.
“President Yoon showed his commitment to communicating with the public with his bold decision to move Cheong Wa Dae. His second move was conducting these impromptu interviews,” she said. “But if you block them entirely, then (people will say) he is a president without communication.”
“How often he does them doesn’t matter. Doing them less often and taking the time to prepare his words would be an easy way to improve them,” Na said.
Seoul-based lawyer Shin Pyeong, a political mentor to Yoon during his presidential campaign, said despite Yoon’s occasional gaffes and loss of composure, the president should continue communicating with the media. “He should maintain the impression of a president who values communication with the people.”
A spokesperson at the presidential office said, “President Yoon will be able to continue holding short press briefings at a distance like he did today.”
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com