S. Korean president’s party sues local broadcaster over hot mic comments

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s party sued a local broadcaster Thursday, claiming it had misrepresented comments caught on a hot mic in which he appeared to insult key security ally the United States.

After a brief meeting with US President Joe Biden at the Global Fund in New York, Yoon was caught swearing on a hot mic in comments first carried by local broadcaster MBC.

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“How could Biden not lose face if these **** do not pass it in Congress?” MBC’s closed caption of the remark read, using asterisks to block out the rough Korean equivalent of “f****ers” while leaving the audio unredacted.

The caption appeared to indicate that Yoon was referring to Biden’s bid to increase the US contribution to the Global Fund, which would require congressional approval.

After initially leaning on broadcasters not to publish the comments, Yoon’s office then strongly pushed back at that characterization of the remarks, saying he was not actually referring to the US president.

Yoon’s office says he did not actually say “Biden” but a similar-sounding Korean word, and that he was actually referring to South Korean, not US, lawmakers.

Yoon himself on Monday criticized the press for what he characterized as inaccurate reporting that damaged the US alliance.

Neither he nor his office have clarified exactly what he said, or addressed his use of crude language.

On Thursday, Yoon's ruling People Power Party sued four senior executives at MBC for defamation.

“MBC is continuing reports that are undermining national interest... They must apologize,” PPP acting chairman Chung Jin-suk told parliament.

MBC strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement that their decision to report on the comments "was done legitimately based on common sense grounds".

“We hope attacks against MBC are not an attempt to gag the press’ mission to hold power in check,” the statement added.

MBC also previously said it had “reported the comment without any judgement or interpretation.”

A local press freedom group said the attacks on MBC had political motives.

“We warn against any efforts to gag press outlets by mobilizing investigative bodies,” the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media said in a statement.

Analysing Yoon’s hot mic comment has become a national obsession in South Korea, dominating mainstream and social media discourse, and spawning thousands of internet memes.

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