South Korea: Putin's Son-in-law Fiasco Caused By Media Frenzy

Overnight, Mr. Yoon has became famous in South Korea because of media coverage introducing him as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's future son-in-law. The South Korean online sphere was inundated by hundreds of updates on Yoon's impending marriage, explaining who are the couple is, what they look like, how they met and fell in love with each other, etc. Lots of jokes and envious comments on the risks and perks of becoming a son-in-law of one of the world's most powerful figures have madly circulated online. Several days later, Yoon resigned from his job and said he is no longer able to talk to Katya Putin, Putin's youngest daughter. Yoon lost both his love and his job within less than a week. Yoon is said to have been dating Katya Putin for about 10 years.

Joongang Ilb0, South Korea's mainstream newspaper made the first report on Katya Putin’s impending marriage to a Korean man identified only by his surname Yoon. Joongang, quoting an anonymous source opened the news article with “Vladimir Putin’s youngest daughter will marry a Korean man” as if reporting fact, irregardless of an apparent media embargo issued by Yoon's family, as shown from a later paragraph in the very same article: “Yoon, 64, said in a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, ‘The couple will make an official announcement about their marriage. Please do not report their marriage now.'” Many things happened within less than a week. Putin's press relations denied the marriage, and Chosun reported, quoting Samsung spokesman that Yoon resigned his position in Moscow office of Samsung Electronics as concerns were raised about possible attacks from terrorist groups. Yoon said in other media outlets that he is very disappointed with Korean media's unwarranted coverage of his private life and his family said that even after they had corrected some facts, the media published their own versions of the news reports.

Image of Vladimir Putin from Wikipedia. Creative Commons 3.0

Below a local news article on Yoon's apparent break-up, hundreds of comments were added, most of them lashing out at the Korean journalist who had hurriedly churned out a story with no respect to the family's media embargo or proper confirmation of the veracity of the report. Some made remarks were made in a serious tone while others were written in jest:

전상민: 기자.. 몸조심해라..푸틴이 이미 KGB 출동시켰을수도 있다.
김진아: 내가 여자입장이었어도, 배신감 느껴서 연락끊고 다시는 보고싶어 하지 않았을 것 같다.
이보배: 푸틴, 중앙일보 고소해버려. 진짜 기자들 보도 자제해달라고 말하면 “보도를 자제해달라”고 했다 뭐 이딴 인용이나 해대고 할 말이 없다.
박정훈: 기사를 쓸때는 인간적으로 책임감은 좀 가지고 써라. 허위사실이나 추측성의 기사가 당사자에게 얼마나 치명적이고 삶 자체를 바꿔놓을수도 있다는 생각을 하란말이다.뭔가 특종을 내기위해 한방 해내기 위해 다른사람의 인생을 기자 니들의 기사에 도박하듯 배팅하는건 너무나 못 된 짓이다.

Jeon Sang-min: You journalist, keep a low profile… Putin may already have dispatched the KGB to your house.
Kim Jin-ah: If I were in her situation, I would also have felt betrayed and no longer wanted to speak to him, and to never see him again.
Lee Bo-bae: Putin, sue Joongang newspaper. These journalists… When people ask them “do not report,” the journalist (after writing everything) adds “they don’t want this to be reported.”
Park Jung-hun: When you write a news article, you should have the minimum amount of responsibility any human has…Think how a false or speculative article can damage others’ lives fundamentally… It is vile thing to make a bet out of other persons’ lives in order to publish an exclusive story – as if they are gambling.

One had even come up with a far-fetched conspiracy theory:

이석태: 이미 몇 년전에도 사귄다는 이야기 나왔고, 그때도 개인간의 사적인 만남이며, 나중에 어찌될 지 모르니 언론에서 설레발칠 거 없다는 식으로 결론나고 더 이상 이야기가 없었다… 그런데 굳이 중앙일보가 삼성에 윤씨가 입사한 걸 기화로, 윤씨를 이용해서 삼성의 러시아에서의 입지를 띄울려고 쓸데없는 언론플레이해서, 남의 개인적 연애를 파국으로 이끌었다. 러시아에서 절대권력자인 동시에 보이지 않는 적들로 둘러싼 푸틴에게 이런 언론보도는 심각한 위협이 될 수 있다. 더구나 한국기업이나 언론이 자기 딸을 이용해서 이익을 보려는 수작질을 하는 걸 보면, 푸틴 개인의 기분도 않 좋고 러시아인들도 순수한 만남으로 보지 않게 된다. 더 이상 순수한 연애가 아닌 게 되어버렸고, 계산적인 정략적 만남이라면 푸틴딸이 윤씨를 만날 이유가 뭐냐? 정치적으로 더 강력하고 도움이 될 집안이 많은데 말이다.

Lee Suk-tae: People already knew that these two were in a relationship several years before (this media coverage was made). People understood this as a personal matter and settled on not making a fuss out of it since no one knows how it will turn out… But one day, Joongang made a big story out of it to promote Samsung’s status in Russia, using Yoon who back then recently joined Samsung. And now, their love met a disastrous end. To Putin, who has absolute power in Russia, but at the same time who is surrounded with invisible enemies, this kind of coverage can work as a serious threat. If they (referring Putin and Russians) understand this as move made by a Korean corporation and media trying to make a profit out of his daughter, not only would Putin feel unpleasant, and other Russians would not see this as an innocent relationship. If this were any chance of a strategic relationship, there is no reason Putin’s daughter to keep seeing him. She can always find much more powerful and helpful families.

Russia hardly comes up in most ordinary Koreans’ conversations and it is no wonder that a Korean man's marriage with top political families in Russia had drawn people's enormous curiosity, admiration and a bit of fear. In a blog that coalesced people comments from various sites, most of the comments written are silly jokes which unwittingly reflected Koreans’ sense of insecurity caused by inter-Korean tension. One suggested Putin's daughter to bring missiles and Naro spacecrafts along with her as marriage gifts and some called her as a natural ‘nuclear umbrella’. Many male responses were focused on disastrous consequences a cheating on Putin's daughter would bring.

The moment a news report on Yoon's apparent break-up was published, Korean Twitterers fervently tweeted the news. When retweeting the news, many have added a personal comment on their strong mistrust to Korean journalism. This mistake, or intended fiasco was not the first mishap Korean media have made for the sake of exclusive coverage.

megatang30 (@megatang30)언론의 입방정이 한 젊은이 망가트리는건가요. 직장 관두고 인연끊어지고… 어릴적 기자라는 직업을 동경하기도 했었는데, 요즘은 영~~

Piazzola1 (@Piazzola1): 이럴줄알았다..옐로우 페이퍼. RT @mape112: RT @Hongstyle: 중앙일보 한 건 하셨네요

megatang30: The media’s indiscretion ruined one young man. He lost his job and relation. I once admired a journalist, but now…
Piazzola1: I knew this would happen… These yellow papers. RT @mape112: RT @Hongstyle: (sarcastically) You scored, Joongang.

Korean netizens are notorious for their harsh rumors and malicious comments on almost everything. Once a news article on someone or some issue is published, thousands of Korean net users rush to the concerned sites. They oftentimes shut them down with heavy traffic to post slanderous messages and ad hominem attacks, thereby arousing serious social debates and igniting controversy. Blogger Hwking wrote that it is actually the journalist who created this cycle of controversy.

현재 많은 사람들은 논란의 대부분이 인터넷 커뮤니티 사이트를 중심으로 일어나는 줄 안다. 한 개인이 올린 주관적인 글이 퍼져 나가는 형식으로 대부분의 논란이 진행 되고 있기 때문이다. 하지만 조금만 시선을 바꿔 돌아보면, 논란의 중심에는 네티즌들이 아닌 기자들이 있다는 것을 쉽게 알 수 있을 것이다. 분명 소재는 네티즌이 제공한 것은 맞다. 하지만 이러한 내용을 과장 시키고, 왜곡시켜 보급하는 곳은 기자들이 있는 언론들이다…지금 언론들에게 가장 중요한 것은 ‘누가 더 빠르게 논란을 확산 시키냐'는 것이다. 객관성, 공정성이라는 단어는 그 어디에서도 찾아 볼 수 없다.

Many people think that a controversy starts from internet community sites. One subjective posting of an individual gets widely circulated and then set off most of controversies. But when take a close look on this phenomenon, you would soon find out that there are journalists in the middle of process. Of course, the issue which to become a subject of controversy had been selected by netizen, but it is the media who exaggerate, distort an issue into controversies and distribute them…What matters most to media of nowadays is ‘how fast can we spread the controversy’. The impartiality and fairness are nowhere to be seen.

No one knows how Yoon's case will work out in the end. One clear fact is that everyone was involved in harming his life, whether intended or not, and there is no one to take responsibility for this mess.


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