Court orders MBC to correct report on Yoon’s hot mic remarks in 2022

January 12, 2024

A court on Friday ordered broadcaster MBC to correct its report on President Yoon Suk Yeol’s remarks caught on a hot mic during his visit to the United States in 2022.

The Seoul Western District Court issued the order in a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleging that the video subtitle of MBC’s report on Yoon’s informal exchange with then Foreign Minister Park Jin in New York in September 2022 was incorrect.

MBC TV's logo (Yonhap)
MBC TV’s logo (Yonhap)

Yoon’s remarks, which experts say are difficult to discern due to background noise, were subtitled by MBC to make it sound like the president was referring to U.S. President Joe Biden. Yoon’s office later clarified that he had made no mention of Biden, expressing concern about damaging the alliance with reports different from the facts.

The foreign ministry launched the lawsuit against MBC in December 2022 after failing to resolve the differences at the Press Arbitration Commission.

The court ruled that the host of MBC’s main evening newscast should read the correction statement related to Yoon’s remarks once at normal speed, with its title and text displayed on screen, as soon as the court’s correction order is finalized.

If the defendant does not fulfill the order, it will have to pay the plaintiff 1 million won (US$760) a day after the due date expires, the court said.

The court said MBC reported that Yoon mentioned Biden in his remarks, though it was not clear even through technical analysis whether he made such a pronunciation.

“Considering the remark’s time, place, background and context, and the statement of the minister who heard it in person, it cannot be said that President Yoon used swear or vulgar words toward the U.S. Congress and Biden,” the court said.

The foreign ministry responded to the court ruling, saying it will be an opportunity to correct MBC’s untrue reports and restore trust in the country’s diplomacy.

The presidential office also reacted to the news.

“It is incredibly irresponsible that a broadcaster, which claims to be public, manipulated subtitles without any scientific or objective verification process and aired a false report that seriously impacts the national interest,” Lee Do-woon, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said during a press briefing.

“We expect this to be an opportunity to fix the incorrect report, quell the groundless and consuming political strife, and restore the people’s trust in our diplomacy and our government.”

But MBC appealed, saying the ruling may deter freedom of expression and the role of media, and that the state or local governments cannot be victims of defamation or contempt.