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South Korea’s Yoon suspends media briefing amid row over banning broadcaster

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Monday suspended his near-daily media briefings amid a spat over banning a major TV broadcaster’s reporters from boarding the presidential plane for what he called “malicious” and “fake” news.

Yoon’s office barred a crew from MBC from riding in the plane with him during a Southeast Asia visit earlier this month, alleging biased coverage of recent controversies.

The end of the free-wheeling briefings came three days after an MBC reporter shouted a question to Yoon asking what was “malicious” about their reporting, to which Yoon walked off without an answer.

It was immediately followed by a quarrel between the reporter and a presidential official as the official criticised the journalist for a “lack of courtesy.”

In its statement on Monday, Yoon’s office said it decided the informal briefing could not continue without measures to prevent similar incidents from recurring.

The briefings were a break with years of tradition in South Korea, where daily access to the president was previously unheard of, as the new leader sought to step up transparency and dispel worries about his lack of political experience.

Just months after taking office as a political newcomer in May, Yoon is struggling with low approval ratings as he tries to drive a post-COVID economic recovery and deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

His approval ratings stood at 33.4% in pollster Realmeter’s survey on Monday, down from 34.6% last week. Nearly 64% disapproved of his performance.

Yoon said on Friday the decision to exclude MBC from the plane was “inevitable” to protect the Constitution, accusing the broadcaster of threatening national security by “attempting to drive a wedge” between South Korea and the United States.

MBC was among the first to report on a viral video in which Yoon was caught on a hot mic making insulting remarks as he left an event in New York after a brief chat with U.S. President Joe Biden in September.

Media initially reported Yoon’s crude comments were targeting the U.S. Congress but Yoon’s office said he was referring to South Korea’s parliament.

Reuters could not independently verify what Yoon said.

Critics have said the decision to bar MBC from boarding the plane is a violation of press freedom. Reuters

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