Why Is Park Afraid to Talk to the Korean Press?

Choi Jai-hyek Choi Jai-hyek

A joint press conference between President Park Geun-hye and Russian President Vladimir Putin at Cheong Wa Dae Wednesday once again ended without a Q&A session. Neither Park nor Putin wanted to take questions, so reporters from both sides just sat there watching the two leaders give their prepared speeches.

Park took office eight months ago, but she has yet to hold a single proper press conference. When her proposal to streamline the government faced opposition in the National Assembly, Park went on air to harangue her political foes, but that too was a monologue, not a dialogue.

Park has made all of her important comments on major issues in meetings with her chief secretaries or Cabinet. Her comments on additional tax reforms came in a meeting in August with her chief secretaries, while her apology for having to revise her election pledge of pensions to senior citizens came in a Cabinet meeting in September.

Only one or two reporters from the Cheong Wa Dae press pool can attend her meetings, and then only to listen her opening address for about 10 minutes and leave without asking questions.

Her views on diplomacy and security usually come in interviews with foreign media she gives ahead of state visit to other countries. This results in the Korean press having to scour foreign newspapers or broadcasts for insights.

Former President Lee Myung-bak gave 14 public speeches or press conferences in the first eight months of his tenure, and Roh Moo-hyun 16. But Park has made a single speech to the public so far. This is a problem because it symbolizes how she sees her relationship with the public. 

Some say Park dreads having to speak off the cuff. But that seems unlikely given how she deftly answered an unexpected question lobbed by a Japanese reporter during a press conference in Europe recently. Park also spoke frankly during closed-door luncheon or dinners with editorial writers, editors and chief political reporters from major media earlier this year.

Her aides say she is more interested in showing herself through actions than words. But does she need to keep completely out of touch? A lot of people probably would like to hear directly from her what she thinks about a lot of issues.

By Choi Jai-hyek from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

englishnews@chosun.com / Nov. 15, 2013 13:04 KST