Prime Minister Han Duk-soo on Wednesday issued an apology for a joke he made during the previous day’s press conference related to the Itaewon tragedy.
“No matter what the circumstances are, I apologize for making the people uncomfortable,” he said in a message that he relayed to reporters through the Prime Minister’s Office.
During Tuesday’s foreign media briefing, Han became the subject of controversy for what was perceived by some as “light-hearted behavior” regarding Saturday’s incident that had taken 156 lives as of Wednesday.
Han was asked by a reporter what “the beginning and the end of the Korean government’s responsibility was” related to the Itaewon tragedy. Han was initially unable to register the said question due to an apparent audio issue, after which the reporter asked the same question in Korean.
After Han’s answer and the subsequent apology from the Prime Minister’s Office on the audio problem, Han looked around and jokingly said with a smile, “What is the beginning and the end of someone who should take responsibility for (me) being unable to hear this?” which was not translated in English.
The news sparked furor online, with many saying it was inappropriate for a high-ranking government official to joke and smile during a national crisis.
Twitter user eeooswerve shared the video with the comment, “Is he seriously making a joke with the reporter’s question? I’m seeing it, but I’m having trouble believing it.” The tweet had been shared 12,400 times as of Wednesday morning.
“Are you a human? Is this a country? The prime minister is making a pun and laughing in a press conference about a ‘tragedy,’” said Twitter user helpnews1004.
Twitter user IsaacSBlessing speculated that Han’s joke contained a hidden meaning -- that the Itaewon tragedy was not caused by lack of safety management of the government, but was merely a natural disaster.