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[Newsmaker] Questions hang over Park’s new spokesman

Min Kyung-wook
Min Kyung-wook

Selecting a talented, problem-free aide is not President Park Geun-hye’s strong suit. Take, for example, her former presidential spokespeople, one of whom she helplessly fired amid embarrassing sexual harassment allegations toward a female intern. Her latest choice for the post is also being put to the test.

At the center of the disputes is Min Kyung-wook, former reporter at Korean Broadcasting System, who accepted the presidential spokesman post on Wednesday. Min, who raised his public profile as an evening news anchor, has no political experience. Nor did he show any intention to jump into the political arena before. He’s now under attacks from both politicians and fellow journalists.

Shortly after Park‘s choice was made public, media outlets and opposition parties began to mount salvoes on Min for allegedly violating code of ethics that stipulates former KBS newscasters of TV or radio programs not to engage in any political activities within six months.

Min, the new presidential spokesman, however, entered Cheong Wa Dae only three months after he transferred from his anchorman post to culture desk editor in the KBS newsroom. He even appeared on the evening news program only a day before he was announced as the new presidential spokesman on Wednesday.

Amid escalating concerns over his ethics, a group of KBS reporters, Min’s former colleagues, on Thursday issued a statement. They said they are “lost in words” and “ashamed and wretched” of watching a man who once called for the neutrality of the publicly managed broadcast swiftly becoming the president’s mouthpiece.

“With (Min) shifting his position as KBS reporter to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman in one day, how would the audiences view (the neutrality of) KBS, KBS news and KBS reporters?” they said, adding that Min should have thought about how his decision would affect reporters’ morale.

Min has also incurred suspicion that he delivered researched information of then-presidential candidate Lee Myung-bak in 2007 to the U.S. government.

In a confidential report written by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to the U.S. state department, Min was described as a reporter sharing his positive impression of Lee after researching his life. Min said in the report that Lee was likely to win the election. “Min has clearly been won over by Lee and his associates in the month he has been researching for this documentary,” said the report now publicized by WikiLeaks.

Min’s qualification as presidential spokesman is also being questioned.

Observers drew concerns over whether he is qualified enough to take the symbolic position tasked to deliver the president’s message and vision to the people, citing that he has no political or administrative background. Min has no particular relations with Park, they added. The former anchor said he just knew President Park in the capacity of a reporter. He interviewed her in 2012 when she was running for president.

Min also faces the daunting tasks of resolving Park‘s uncommunicative image, partly created by the absence of two presidential spokesmen. President Park appointed two presidential spokespeople early last year. She fired one, Yoon Chang-joong, for his alleged sexual harassment against a Korean-American intern during her last state visit to the U.S. Former spokeswoman Kim Haing also resigned from the post late last year, saying she needed some rest.

By Cho Chung-un (