October 16, 2018 13:04
The Unification Ministry on Monday banned a Chosun Ilbo reporter who is a North Korean defector from a four-member pool of South Korean journalists covering talks with North Korean officials.
The ministry only told Kim Myong-song of its decision at 6:30 a.m., an hour before the reporters were set to leave for the border truce village of Panmunjom, where the talks were held.
Around 15 minutes before heading to the talks, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon met with Kim and the head of the pool and said, "The decision was made considering various factors, including the fact that this is Panmunjom and that high-level inter-Korean talks are involved. I take full responsibility" for the decision.
Kim settled in South Korea in 2002 and joined the Chosun Ilbo in 2013, where he has been assigned to cover the Unification Ministry. But the ministry apparently felt that sending a defector would be seen by the North as a slap in the face.
Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said, "The reporter's active track record has made him well known. We don't mean to restrict the press, but due to the special circumstance we took necessary steps."
Reporters covering the ministry in a statement denounced the decision and accused the ministry of a "serious breach of press freedom." The reporters also demanded an apology from Cho and a pledge not to let it happen again.
Cho expressed regret, but said he would probably do the same thing again.
North Korean defectors and human rights groups accused the ministry of failing in its duty to protect the rights of defectors and helping them settle in the South. The opposition also accused the ministry of "seriously damaging media freedom and violating the Constitution."
Meanwhile, the two sides agreed in Monday's talks to resume a joint study of cross-border railway projects that was halted in August after the UN Command refused to give permission. They will start work to reconnect the severed railways in late November or early December.
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