Korea abuzz over president’s hot-mic moment

Korea abuzz over president’s hot-mic moment

Broadcaster sued over clip showing Yoon Suk-yeol swearing and appearing to insult the US

Park Dae-chul (second from left) off the ruling People Power Party speaks to reporters after his party filed a complaint against the South Korean broadcaster MBC TV on Thursday in Seoul. (AFP Photo)
Park Dae-chul (second from left) off the ruling People Power Party speaks to reporters after his party filed a complaint against the South Korean broadcaster MBC TV on Thursday in Seoul. (AFP Photo)

SEOUL: The party of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is suing a local broadcaster, claiming it had misrepresented a vulgar comment caught on a hot mic in which he appeared to insult the United States.

Analysing the president’s hot mic moment has become a national obsession in South Korea, dominating mainstream and social media discourse, and spawning thousands of internet memes.

The incident took place during a brief meeting with US President Joe Biden at the Global Fund in New York on Sept 21. Yoon was caught swearing, unaware that his microphone was on, in comments first carried by the local broadcaster MBC.

“How could Biden not lose face if these **** do not pass it in Congress?” he said in a closed-caption readout by MBC, which used asterisks to block out the rough Korean equivalent of “fuckers” while leaving the audio unredacted.

The caption appeared to indicate that Yoon was referring to Biden’s bid to increase the US contribution to the Global Fund, which would require congressional approval.

After initially leaning on broadcasters not to publish the comments, Yoon’s office then strongly pushed back at that characterisation of the remarks, saying he was not actually referring to the US president.

Yoon’s office says he did not actually say “Biden” but a similar-sounding Korean word, and that he was actually referring to South Korean, not US, lawmakers.

Yoon himself on Monday criticised the media for what he characterised as inaccurate reporting that damaged the US alliance.

Neither he nor his office have clarified exactly what he said, or addressed his use of crude language.

On Thursday, Yoon’s ruling People Power Party sued four senior executives at MBC for defamation.

“MBC is continuing reports that are undermining national interest. … They must apologise,” PPP acting chairman Chung Jin-suk told parliament.

MBC strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement that their decision to report on the comments “was done legitimately based on common sense grounds”.

“We hope attacks against MBC are not an attempt to gag the press’s mission to hold power in check,” the statement added.

MBC also previously said it had “reported the comment without any judgement or interpretation”.

A local media freedom group said the attacks on MBC had political motives.

“We warn against any efforts to gag press outlets by mobilising investigative bodies,” the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media said.

Analysing Yoon’s hot mic comment has become a national obsession in South Korea, dominating mainstream and social media discourse, and spawning thousands of internet memes.


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