The Press & The Presidency: A Year in Crisis

From left: Peter Pae, John Delury and Jonathan Cheng

June 20, 2017 - Asia Society Korea held its final Monthly Luncheon before taking a break for the summer by hosting a panel discussion with foreign journalists Peter Pae and Jonathan Cheng on “The Press & The Presidency: A Year in Crisis.” Peter Pae has been the Korea bureau chief at Bloomberg News since July 2015. He previously worked as an editor and reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Jonathan Cheng is the Seoul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, overseeing the Journal's coverage of the Korean Peninsula, including North Korean politics, South Korean politics, and South Korean conglomerates including Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. The event was once again moderated by Asia Society’s John Delury, an Associate Professor of International Studies at Yonsei University who oversaw the discussion on the last 12 months as a major news cycle that included the Korean presidential transition, North Korea nuclear and missile tests, and chaebol scrutiny.

Mr. Pae kicked off the discussion by giving his thoughts on the past year in journalism on the Korean Peninsula, which he says have been the busiest for a long time, maybe ever. No country has experienced so much in such a short space of time; starting with North Korea conducting a nuclear test, the presidential scandal involving Park Geun-hye, the corruption scandal, Korea’s biggest conglomerates under the spotlight, the impeachment of the president, and finally the special elections which saw Moon Jae-in take power. Only now can the journalism community look back and reflect on the quality of their coverage. Pae believes that we saw some of the best of local journalism but also some of the worst in the last year. With so many local media, journalists, and outlets all vying for the same scoop, there have been some amazing stories, investigative pieces, and the highlighting of other relevant domestic issues. On the flip side, as there was so much competition to write a standout piece, some standards were put to the side with journalism ethics often thrown out of the window.

Echoing many of the previous comments, Mr. Cheng believes the past year has been wonderful in a journalistic sense because, as a reporter, you want to be in the middle of big, global stories. He believes foreign correspondents have an interesting role here in Korea, as their main job is to report back home what is happening on the peninsula. Despite Bloomberg having a relatively large operation in Korea, they have just a handful of bodies compared to the army of reporters that the local media have at their disposal. Therefore, like the role of the diplomatic community in Seoul, the biggest challenge is to interpret national events and relay this information to audiences oversees.  Both Mr. Cheng and Mr. Pae took questions and comments from attendees that included representatives from embassies, news agencies, corporations, and educational institutions.