On March 13, the spokesperson of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, Lee Hae-sik, attacked a Bloomberg journalist, Youkyung Lee, accusing her of having written "traitorous content” that “insulted the head of state." He reproached her for an article published last September in which she described South Korean President Moon Jae-in - who since taking office has attempted to engender better relations with North Korea - as a “spokesman” for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The day after, Lee Hae-sik attacked another journalist, Choe Sang-Hun of the New York Times, who had expressed a similar opinion.
This affair caused a commotion in South Korea, which is recovering from a decade of repeated violations against press freedom. The Party’s spokesperson later apologized and had the journalists’ personal details removed from his statements. However President Moon, who also acts as the Democratic Party chairman, has so far declined to comment.
“Journalists have every right to express their opinions on the handling of state affairs and should only consider their readers’ best interests”, said Cédric Alviani, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau, who called on President Moon to “explicitly denounce his party’s statement and ensure that, in the future, it fully respects the principles of freedom of the press.”
After a dark decade for press freedom, South Korea saw a significant improvement following President Moon’s election and its ranking went from 63rd to 43rd in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Moon, a former human rights lawyer elected president in May 2017, has pledged to ensure that South Korea will be ranked 30th by the end of his term of office. However, his government isn’t immune to malpractices. In October 2018, they banned a journalist who is a former North Korean defector from covering the talks with North Korean officials that took place in the demilitarized zone between the two countries.