SINGAPORE – South Korea’s ruling party withdrew personal criticism of a Bloomberg News reporter for writing an article about President Moon Jae-in, after international press groups warned the remarks threatened journalistic freedom and demanded a retraction by the party.
The Democratic Party of Korea removed from a statement posted on its website last week language mentioning the reporter’s name and describing the Sept. 25 Bloomberg article about Moon’s North Korean policy as “almost like treason.” The move came days after journalists’ organizations said that the comments had resulted in serious threats to the reporter’s personal safety.
“We would like to apologize to foreign journalists within South Korea, if we have caused any misunderstandings,” party spokesman Lee Hae-sik said in a statement Tuesday. “We do acknowledge that our rough expressions, due to a lack of knowledge and virtue, could have caused some discomfort for the reporter, and depending on the person, it could have provided a psychological shock.”
Moments before Lee’s comments, Moon’s office had reaffirmed the president’s support for press freedom and issued a statement pledging “an appropriate countermeasure” against threats to any reporter’s safety.
The controversy erupted last week after conservative lawmaker Na Kyung-won cited the headline of the Bloomberg story as part of an effort to criticize Moon’s foreign policy after the collapse of U.S. President Donald Trump’s talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Lee subsequently issued the statement naming Bloomberg and the reporter involved, using a derogatory term referring to ethnic Koreans who work for the foreign press.
The headline in question described Moon as becoming Kim’s “top spokesman at UN” during a visit to the United Nations last year, when the South Korean leader said he had “tried to have people around the world see Chairman Kim Jong Un and what kind of person he is with their eyes.”
On Tuesday, Lee reaffirmed his criticism of Na’s remarks and the article, describing them as something that “insults the president and insults the citizens.”
On Saturday, the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over the ruling party’s decision to single out a reporter, calling on the government to respect South Korea’s hard-won press freedoms. The AAJA-Asia and the Seoul subchapter of the Asian-American journalists’ group separately faulted the focus on the reporter’s Korean ethnicity in the statement.
Moon’s office pledged to uphold press freedoms in its statement Tuesday. “We cannot accept any circumstances where a reporter’s personal safety is threatened, and we believe this should never happen in any situation,” the presidential office said.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, said in a statement that “we stand by our reporting and our reporter.”