Kim Myong Song, a reporter for one of South Korea’s biggest daily newspapers, the Chosun Ilbo, who covers the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of inter-Korean relations, remembers rushing to cover a high-level meeting of North and South Korean officials early one morning in October.
On the way to the bus that would take him to Panmunjom, the border village where the talks were taking place, the ministry called to tell him he had been barred from covering the event. “I felt so betrayed and angry,” Kim tells NPR. “I could understand it if I was an inexperienced newcomer. But I’ve been covering the ministry for six years.”
The ministry never really explained why it barred Kim. A spokesman simply said the ministry took “necessary steps” because of “the special circumstance.”
Kim happens to be a defector from North Korea. Kim and other defectors believe that their experience of living under the North Korean regime gives them a role to play in this process. He speculates that officials shut him out because they were concerned that having a defector in the room could offend the North Korean officials and derail the talks.
Other journalists, defectors and human rights activists sprang to Kim’s defense and slammed the ministry’s action. Among them was defector Choi Kyong Hui, president of a civic group called South and North Development, who pointed out that Kim was going to cover talks in South Korea, not North Korea. “In a democratic society,” she argues, “no individual or official has the right to restrict journalists working for the people’s right to know.”
All this makes Kim Myong Song apprehensive about his future as a journalist in South Korea. Before the government banned him from covering the inter-Korean meeting, he says, the peace process had actually given him hope: that someday he could report from Pyongyang, as a South Korean correspondent. These days, it seems he can’t even report freely from Seoul.