Bullying the press
By Lee Tae-hoon
The United States Forces Korea (USFK) is accused of forcing media to report under its guidelines, and when they don’t, denying them access.
In response to the latest such case, the Defense Press Corps, composed of 25 outlets, is scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday.
The latest case involves The Korea Times’ report on the April 13 front-page interview article with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John A. Macdonald, titled, “Korea, US closer on missile defense.”
The interview was conducted April 11 amid the brouhaha over North Korea’s rocket launch so the focus was the timing of what the North claimed to be a satellite launch.
Macdonald predicted the launch would be made around noon on April 14 and his forecast was included in the first edition, but was dropped for the second edition in response to a USFK request. The launch took place on April 13.
But the USFK Public Affairs Office (PAO), however, raised the issue with the Times’ defense correspondent over the article, arguing that it should have been a human interest story.
It then didn’t invite the correspondent to an ensuing important media event on April 17, a press conference by Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.
Korean journalists sought Tuesday’s meeting after finding out that The Korea Times was excluded from attending it after refusing to comply with some requests by the USFK PAO.
An insider from the USFK confirmed that the PAO prohibited The Korea Times from taking part in Admiral Locklear’s press meeting because it was upset at the newspaper for refusing to make major changes in its interview with Macdonald.
“An officer from the USFK PAO admitted that it was his mistake to expect The Korea Times to publish a personal story about Macdonald at a time when the press was eager to hunt information about the North’s imminent launch of a rocket, to which the general had a strong insight,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The tensions between the USFK PAO and the defense press corps have worsened over the past years, especially after Gen. James D. Thurman sworn in as the head of the 28,000-strong U.S. forces in Korea in July last year.
The four-star general has never held a press briefing since his inauguration. He did not even utter a word in front of the Korean press when he visited the Ministry of National Defense on April 13 with U.S. Ambassador to Korea Sung Kim upon the launch of the North’s rocket.
“USFK officials have acted and treated us as if they are occupation forces,” a reporter from a daily newspaper said, calling for strong action such as a layoff of officials responsible for the ban.
“Locklear did not even offer a handshake with us last week. I don’ t think it is a good idea to boycott the USFK’s press events and releases as there are hardly any of them and the office may rather welcome such a move.”
Thurman’s predecessor Commander Gen. Walter Sharp attempted to normalize relations with the press after being criticized for unilaterally refusing to hold a press conference at least four times.
Sharp postponed the meeting with local journalists on Jan. 29, Feb. 23, April 27 and Aug 8 in 2010 without giving any specific reason.