How South Korea’s exclusive press clubs undermine democracy
Close ties between media and government inhibit hard-hitting reporting and compromise journalism's watchdog role
Journalists in Seoul were less than impressed when they recently received a set of questions from Yoon Suk-yeol’s presidential office that seemed more like an interrogation than a form to apply for media access.
The document on “identity verification” asked journalists to reveal their wealth, political donations or affiliations, along with similar prying questions about their spouses, parents and close acquaintances.
As reporters voiced their outrage, the spokesperson explained in a group chat that the relocation of the presidential office required enhanced security. Foreign correspondents, meanwhile, were bewildered by sections about their parents’ occupations and whether they had relatives in North Korea.
But one reporter at a major local paper raised an entirely different concern in the group messenger, asking why the presidential office had released the questionnaire without consulting with the press club. The correspondent was seemingly less concerned about the invasive questions than by the violation of the press club reporters’ prerogatives.
While the presidential office removed the controversial sections from the questionnaire, the incident and reporter’s response highlighted the often too cozy relationship between press clubs and public officials in South Korea. The two have worked in tandem to shape the media environment to their own advantage, in ways that have weakened the fundamental watchdog role of the press in a democratic society.South Korean reporters at Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul with then-President Moon Jae-in on Aug. 18, 2017 | Image: Cheong Wa Dae’s YouTube
It all begins in reporters’ lounges, which are located in the presidential office, all 18 government ministries and most state-run organizations. Offering workspace and WiFi, a briefing area and a refreshment corner, the facilities are generally open to all registered media.
But access is
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