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South Korean Media Whitewashes President's European Trip

South Korean President Park Geun-hye recently completed a week-long official visit to Western Europe on a political mission to forge economic and financial partnerships with Belgium, France and the UK.

But some facts, you wouldn't know from Korean media coverage.  

Korean net users have bashed pro-government major newspapers for inundating their pages with lavish praise for the president's fashion sense and language skills while distorting the truth and filtering out some major talking points.

“When Park stepped into Buckingham palace, the rain stopped and the sun shone [ko]”. “The world was mesmerized by the president's traditional Korean fashion [ko]”. “Park delivered an opening speech in French, received a standing ovation for her fluent French‘ [ko]…

These are just few examples of actual headlines Korean media printed while covering Park's visit. Media critics even published a lengthy compilation of Korean media's praises [ko]. And it was nearly impossible to find any negative commentary, especially from the three biggest conservative newspapers in the country, which are notorious for being in agreement with almost every major issue backed by right-wing governments.

To South Koreans, this kind of coverage shares hallmarks of the country's dictatorship in the 1970s and 80s, considered the darkest era of journalism when the current president’s father ruled the country with iron fist and infamous military dictator Chun Doo-hwan brutally clamped down on democratic movements. Back in Chun’s era, primetime TV news always began the broadcast with a heaping of praise for Chun [ko] as the first news item.

Park's trip-up, embargoed

On November 6 during Park's visit, as she was exiting a car, she fell because she stepped on the tail of her long, traditional Korean dress. But only on the night of November 7 were Koreans able to read about this on Korean news as the presidential house had placed an embargo on local press and asked that they not write about the fall [ko] until foreign media covered it.

Many net users seems perplexed, even shocked at the incident:

Fell with a splash! This is a scene of Your Highness Park Geun-hye falling down during her visit to UK. The presidential house asked to hold off writing about it till the foreign press reported on this. Come on, we are not living in an absolute monarchy. The media who voluntarily caved to this are quite problematic.

What is funnier than Park’s fall? It is hilarious that the presidential house blocked press from reporting on this and that the press accepted such request.

The real reason for a standing ovation

Numerous media outlets reported that Park spoke in French during her visit to France and received a standing ovation. But they didn't explain what was her speech about: 

Local media have showered the president with positive coverage that she got a standing ovation by speaking in French. But this fact they missed out: the part where she got the most applause is when she said she will open up the Korean public sector market to foreign companies.

Similar comments lamented:

@ksi0601 올랑드가 원하는 건 ‘시장’뿐이다[…] 박근혜의 연설에 기립박수를 친건 당연한 것이었다. 하지만, 이런 사실을 알리는 언론이 대한민국에는 없었다.

@ksi0601 What [French President Francois] Hollande wanted was the market […] It is so obvious why they gave a standing ovation to Park Geun-hye’s speech. But there was no Korean media who reported this fact.

Korean media unanimously praised Park’s visit to France and UK, however Koreans living in those countries said their media don't even report much, except the fact that she is a dictator’s daughter and the Korean spy agency’s interference in the presidential election. Shame on you — you [Korean] journalists and tabloids who don't even feel shame.

Threatening Korean protesters in Paris

During Park's visits to France and the UK, Koreans living in those countries held candlelight vigils denouncing the state spy agency's meddling in the latest presidential election — an election that made Park the president today:

 Right now, Koreans living in the UK, holding signs, are holding a candlelight vigil. We are now in London. 

 Today in London, a candlelight event was held to welcome President Park. 

However, ruling party lawmaker Kim Jin-Tae, who accompanied Park on her European tour, posted a threatening message on his Facebook page [ko], saying “Paris protesters will pay for this”, suggesting that the protesters are from the leftist party, and adding that “anyone whose blood didn't boil upon seeing those protesters must not be a Korean”.

Enraged by this insult, the protesters demanded that Kim apologize [ko]. Net users chimed in: 

That thug Kim Jin-Tae made quite a scene by saying “those people who protested in Paris against the election fraud, I will made them pay”. By saying so, he has instantly made Park — who publicly said that “democracy runs smoothly in South Korea” — a liar.

Thanks to [ruling party] Saenuri’s politician Kim Jin-Tae, more people are learning about the Paris protests, which were held during Park’s visit to Paris. These protests have been rarely reported by Korean media.


  • This is excellent journalism. Very well done. Very impressive. The mainstream Korean media is so supine and self-congratulatory, it’s almost unreadable – endless stories on the glories of Samsung or Korean food. Whatever.
    Korea needs a lot more oppositional-adversarial journalism like this. Not only is that what journalism is supposed to do, it is also crucial if journalism is to play a healthy role in democracy as a check-and-balance.
    I congratulate you for doing that, and I look forward to reading more intelligent criticism. I signed up for your RSS.

    • Yoo Eun

      Thank you. That was a very generous compliment :)

      • Really, this is probably the best journalism I have seen in Korea in awhile. The Korea media is far too close to the state and corporations. So not surprisingly, it often reads like nationalist agitpop and chaebol advertising. Bleh. When is the last time you read real investigative journalism in Korea?
        What Korea really needs is critical independent journalism – stuff like the Atlantic, the New Republic, Salon, Glenn Greenwald or even just Slate. Unfortunately, the Hankyoreh just traffics in anti-Americanism, conspiracy theories, and stuff like that. So you are filling a badly needed niche in Korea.
        Indeed, given how professionally risky such critical journalism is for Korean journalists, I am even more impressed. It takes guts to say this sorta stuff in Korea. Congratulations.

        • RElgin

          I agree with Mr. Kelly. You are quite literally a one-person news service.

  • […] That’s a good question. And it’s a question that might be better asked, perhaps, of your own government officials and media editors. […]

  • Jae Hee

    The true role of the press.

  • […] of professional success), lots more free speech, particularly in the Korean media which is far too supine (Korea is, shockingly, ranked as only ‘partly-free’ by Freedom House on press freedom), and […]

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