Symbolic talks at Yoon’s office have been put on hold. Why?

President Yoon Suk-yeol takes questions from reporters as he visits the presidential office headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol’s token efforts to communicate with the press each morning have been temporarily suspended. The presidential office said the shutdown was due to the resurgence of the coronavirus, but some critics say Yoon’s recent drop in approval ratings and his unprepared remarks could have affected the decision.

On Monday, Yoon went to his office without speaking to the press for the first time since his inauguration.

The presidential office said: “It is inevitable to adjust the operation due to confirmed patients in the press. Given the spread of COVID-19, the schedule and mode of operation will be decided again. »

Yoon’s interviews were conducted by answering reporters’ questions without a script for about two to three minutes on the way to work every morning – what Korean media calls “the doorstep”, although both sides have searched for encounters.

It was a symbolic decision by the new government to “strengthen communication” with the media. Initially, his communication efforts, different from those of previous presidents, were highly appreciated.

However, Yoon’s off-the-cuff, unfiltered remarks about his feelings and comparisons to the previous administration have occasionally sparked controversy.

Asked last week about “his failed staff appointments”, he responded angrily, saying: “Have you seen such great people appointed by the previous administration?” He immediately added: “Next question”.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Korea Society Opinion Institute at the request of the TBS, 47.3% of respondents – the largest part – said that controversies had arisen during these meetings because “it was not not ready when he answered”.

Political commentator Park Chang-hwan said he sees these impromptu interviews as the best tool Yoon has.

“For a president who narrowly wins the election and has a small political base against an opposition-party-dominated parliament, this might be the best tool to capture public attention,” Park said.

“However, while a useful tool, his unfiltered words – saying he doesn’t care about public opinion and criticizing the previous administration – turned the public against him.”

For Yoon to make full use of these interviews, he needs to craft his remarks more carefully and ask spokespersons to make corrections and additions as needed, the commentator said.

The presidential office, however, denied these views, pointing out that the shutdown was due to COVID-19.

“We decided (to cancel them) because the safety of people staying in the building was more important,” a senior presidential official said on condition of anonymity.

“If the presidential office responds incorrectly and the spread grows stronger, the criticism of us would be heavier,” the official said. “We know the possibility of many misunderstandings, but we made a difficult decision in a hurry.”

By Shin Ji-hye ([email protected])

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