Yoon cites national interests after his office bans MBC reporters from boarding Air Force One

SEOUL– President Yoon Suk-yeol said Thursday that important national interests are at stake during presidential overseas trips, after his office decided to ban local TV station MBC’s reporters from boarding Air Force One to cover his upcoming trip to Southeast Asia.

The presidential office informed MBC of the decision Wednesday, two days before Yoon departs for his tour of Cambodia and Indonesia, citing the broadcaster’s repeated “distorted” coverage.

“The president goes on overseas trips using taxpayer money because important national interests are at stake,” Yoon told reporters as he arrived for work Thursday. “We’ve been providing a service to help with coverage of foreign policy and security issues, and I’d like you to accept it in those terms.”

The presidential office did not specify which reports were distorted, but MBC has been at the center of controversy after it broadcast a video of Yoon walking out of an event in New York in September and telling his aides in vulgar language that it would be embarrassing if the National Assembly did not approve of something unspecified.

MBC subtitled the video to make it appear that Yoon was referring to U.S. President Joe Biden, but the presidential office denied there was any mention of Biden and claimed the word he used was in reference to the National Assembly. Yoon’s remarks caught on a hot mic were difficult to hear because of background noise.

“The boarding of the presidential jet has been a service provided to help with coverage of foreign policy and security issues, and in consideration of MBC’s repeated distorted and biased coverage of foreign policy issues recently, we have decided not to provide the service,” the presidential office said in a notice to the company.

In response, MBC issued a statement vowing to send its reporters on an alternative flight if they are banned.

“This action clearly restricts coverage by the press,” it said.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) denounced the decision as a “suppression of the press.”

DP lawmakers of the parliamentary broadcasting committee said it is contradictory to allow a civilian to board Air Force One while banning reporters who work for people’s right to know.

Earlier this year, criticism of the presidential office arose after the wife of a presidential secretary for personnel affairs, who does not have any title, flew on Air Force One to accompany Yoon and first lady Kim Kun-hee on a trip to Spain for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But the ruling People Power Party defended the decision.

“MBC aired biased and distorted reports. Is it right to define MBC as press? I am personally opposed to that,” PPP lawmaker Kweon Seong-dong said. “The presidential office can decide who gets on the presidential jet.”

Later in the day, eight media workers’ organizations released a joint statement denouncing the presidential office’s decision as “being in clear defiance of the Constitution that guarantees press freedom.”

“It is an unprecedented repression of and violence against the press,” they continued, calling on President Yoon to retract the decision and apologize for what they said is “an anti-constitutional measure to restrict reporting.”

The groups included the Korea Reporters Federation, the Korea Broadcasting Journalist Association and the Korea Press Photographers’ Association.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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