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Democratic Party spokesperson says criticism of reporter aimed at opposition

Spokesman Lee Hae-sik says his comments were not racist because he used quotation marks, questions if the SFCC read party‘s commentary

Spokesperson Lee Hae-sik of the ruling party Democratic Party of Korea defended Tuesday his criticism of a Bloomberg reporter, saying his comments were directed at conservative media and political leaders, and rejecting accusations of racism.

“The commentary I wrote was aimed at (Liberty Korea Party) Floor Leader Na Kyung-won’s parliamentary speech, it was not a commentary about an individual reporter. I am not sure who wrote it (the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club official statement), but I’m doubtful it was written after thoroughly reading the commentary,” Lee told The Korea Herald.

Lee’s comments, made last week and since posted on the party’s website, have sparked controversy for singling out the reporter by name and accusing her of treason.

The article, published in September, was brought into the spotlight by Na during a contentious parliamentary speech, when she used cited it to suggest that President Moon was acting as a spokesperson for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Democratic Party Spokesman Lee Hae-sik (Yonhap)
Democratic Party Spokesman Lee Hae-sik (Yonhap)

Lee emphasized that his comments were intended at criticizing Na and conservative media that print articles published by foreign media without filtering them.

Lee said his highly controversial remarks about the reporter, who is Korean, as a “black-haired foreign reporter” could not be used as racism because he had used quotation marks. The term "black-haired" is sometimes used in Korea to negatively describe someone as being only superficially Korean.

“It does not make sense. I would understand it (the criticism) if a reporter who works overseas and represents the public opinion of Americans wrote ‘top spokesman’ (about President Moon). But that is not the case,” Lee said.

“This is not racism because I described the Korean reporter working here as a ‘black-haired foreign reporter’ using double quotation marks. … I read the statement and it is not racially discriminatory.”

On Tuesday, the Asian American Journalists Association’s Asia chapter and its Seoul subchapter issued a statement saying, “Threatening or intimidating behavior towards journalists is unacceptable and needs to stop. Such activities have a chilling effect and undermine the freedom of the press for all journalists working in Korea.”

It went on to urge respect for the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The statement followed an official statement by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club released over the weekend that expressed “grave concern” over Lee’s singling out of a reporter prompting “serious threats to her personal safety.”

Lee dismissed accusation of media censorship as an overstatement.

“South Korea is a democratic country in which the existence of an administration depends on journalists’ commentaries. Accusations of media suppression is too exaggerated,” Lee said. (