The Korea Herald


Ex-reporter under probe for allegedly bribing outlet to run ‘anti-Yoon’ story

By Kim Arin

Published : Sept. 6, 2023 - 18:00

    • Link copied

Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Lee Jae-myung attends the plenary session of the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Lee Jae-myung attends the plenary session of the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

A former reporter has become the center of a media bias debate in South Korean politics after accusations emerged that he paid a journalist working for an independent news outlet last year to carry a damaging story against then-presidential candidate Yoon Suk Yeol.

The ex-reporter, Kim Man-bae, is described by political insiders as being close to Rep. Lee Jae-myung, the current leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea who rivaled Yoon in the 2022 presidential election.

He is also a key suspect in a spiraling controversy surrounding an urban development project led by then-mayor of Seongnam Lee. He was the largest shareholder of an asset management company that made major investments in Lee’s city project. Several of Lee’s aides are either under investigation or already facing trial over suspicions they were handed insider information and favors to illicitly profit from the city project.

Seoul prosecutors on Wednesday searched the home and office of Kim, who if the allegations are true, would be in violation of anti-graft laws. Asking the court for an arrest warrant for him, prosecutors said their investigations so far revealed him telling the so-called informants to give interviews portraying Lee as being innocent and Yoon as suspicious. In one of the phone calls, he was heard telling another Lee confidant, “all of us are in this together with Lee Jae-myung.”

Newstapa, the independent outlet in question, in a statement Tuesday admitted one of its staffers, who no longer works there, received a whopping 165 million won ($124,000) in return for doing the story. The article painted Yoon as having a major role in the Seongnam project from which Lee’s aides supposedly profited from. The outlet, however, claimed it was unaware, at the time, of the exchange of money. They also maintained they did not know that Kim had close ties to Lee.

The emerging details about Kim, who was a longtime reporter covering the justice systems, and how he supposedly tried to help Lee in last year’s election through the news story have fueled the ruling People Power Party’s complaints about bias in the media.

The ruling party held a meeting Wednesday, where its floor leader Rep. Yun Jae-ok characterized Kim paying for an anti-Yoon story “a possible election crime that could have led to grave consequences.”

The floor leader said the recent suspicions showed members of the press and suspects in the real estate controversy “colluded to sway or even rig the election in a way that could have clouded voter sentiments with made up claims.”

He said that the ruling party would be organizing a task force to look into the scope of the suspected collusion between some media outlets and the Democratic Party of Korea presidential campaign, in addition to the criminal investigation that is underway.

Lee, who is on day seven of a hunger strike protesting what he calls a “Yoon dictatorship,” said in a radio interview Wednesday that the People Power Party too had circulated malicious stories against him over the presidential race.

“The other party linked me to gangster groups during the race, which I think amounts to election rigging,” he said.

During a closed-door briefing Tuesday, a senior Yoon official said the suspicions surrounding the opposition leader and the ex-reporter were “the worst fake news” from last year. Such instances “mar the sanctity and credibility of our election processes,” the official told reporters.