Presidential office says first lady wasn’t imitating Hepburn
The presidential office is filing a criminal complaint against Democratic Party (DP) Rep. Jang Kyung-tae for allegedly spreading false information about first lady Kim Keon-hee.
Jang, a member of the DP’s supreme council, made remarks last Friday suggesting that photos of Kim with a sick Cambodian child during a diplomatic tour accompanying President Yoon Suk-yeol earlier this month were staged.
The presidential office said in a statement Tuesday it was taking legal action against Jang for spreading “fake news” and “directly infringing upon the diplomatic national interests and damaging the rights and interests of the people.”
This is the first time Yoon’s presidential office has taken legal action against an individual.
Kim accompanied Yoon to Cambodia and Indonesia from Nov. 11 to 16, where he attended Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings in Phnom Penh and a G20 summit in Bali.
In Phnom Penh, Kim skipped a trip to Angkor Wat with other spouses of leaders to visit the home of a Cambodian child with a congenital heart disease.
According to the presidential office, Kim had heard about 14-year-old Ratha, who underwent heart surgery at a local medical center in 2018, and how his family was unable to pay for another heart operation. Her visit sparked interest among people wanting to help Ratha get treatment in Korea.
In Korea, the media and online communities immediately drew comparisons between a photo taken of Kim and Ratha on Nov. 12 and a photograph of actor Audrey Hepburn with a malnourished child in Somalia in 1992. Kim’s black short-sleeved polo-style shirt over light pants, and the way she holds the child in the photograph released by the presidential office, were compared to Hepburn, a Unicef goodwill ambassador.
On Friday, Jang said during a DP supreme council meeting that “foreign media and photo experts analyzed that first lady Kim’s photo was not taken naturally in the process of volunteering but as a ‘concept’ photo with the installation of two or three pieces of lighting equipment.”
On Sunday, the presidential office denied that any special lighting was used to take the photograph of Kim and the child.
Jang later defended his remarks on Facebook, claiming that he was citing foreign media outlets. However, he was not able to provide immediate foreign media sources and instead cited local Internet forums and the social media account of a purported photographer who analyzed the photograph.
In another party meeting on Nov. 14, Jang called Kim’s philanthropic efforts in Cambodia “poverty porn,” accusing the presidential office of using a child’s illness as a “publicity stunt.”
He questioned who was in charge of Kim’s schedule, calling it a “diplomatic discourtesy” to Cambodia for the first lady to skip the official spouses’ program.
After a backlash, Jang defended his remarks in an interview, claiming “poverty porn” was an academic term commonly used in the West.
Last week, the People Power Party (PPP) submitted a motion to a parliamentary ethics committee calling for disciplinary action for Jang’s remarks on “poverty porn.” A group of PPP female lawmakers also demanded Jang give up his National Assembly seat over his disparaging remarks about the first lady.
In the statement Tuesday, the presidential office said it decided to take legal action against Jang because he spread “fake news” from unknown sources in party meetings and on social media and refused to apologize.
“The Cambodian government, a friendly country, conveyed its gratitude for the related visit,” the statement continued, “but the opposing party is spreading fake news and inciting conflict between the two countries, which does not serve the national interest in any way.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]