South Korean Justice Minister Park Sang-ki held a press conference on his own in an empty press room of the Gwacheon Government Complex on Wednesday. Reporters declined to attend the press conference as the justice minister announced that he would not receive any questions regarding the activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the prosecution’s relevant investigation. It is only fair that journalists have boycotted the press conference of Park who seems to be treating reporters as some sort of accessories to an event of the Justice Ministry.
This incident raises questions about the justice minister’s qualifications as an officeholder of a democratic country. A press conference is where journalists ask questions on behalf of the public. If he had not felt comfortable with a Q&A session, he should have issued a statement or a press release, instead of a press conference. It is indeed a highly arrogant behavior on his part – one that is equivalent to ignoring the public’s right to know – to insist on the press conference format yet refuse to take questions.
It is not difficult to guess why Justice Minister Park was unwilling to answer reporters’ questions on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee under the prosecution. Former senior prosecutors accused by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for having been involved in the incident surrounding former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-ui have recently filed criminal and civil lawsuits against the committee. The current justice minister himself is also charged for wrongfully providing a crime victim protection fund when the committee investigated the so-called “Jang Ja-yeon list” incident. He also must have been concerned that a small mistake during a press conference could lead to a much bigger issue at a politically sensitive time like this due to a pending adjustment of the investigative rights between the prosecution and police.
However, the current situation has been largely brought on by Justice Minister Park himself. He could not have expected to see results deemed agreeable by most after having filled five out of nine seats available in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee with those from the Lawyers for Democratic Society, an organization with a pointed ideological direction. Plus, the Ministry of Justice accepted the fourth extension of the committee’s serving period immediately after President Moon Jae-in ordered an investigation into the cases of the former vice justice minister and Jang Ja-yeon in March. In fact, the current situation was caused as the justice minister was only busy with flattering the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. A justice minister must maintain a political balance in exercising his or her authorities as a civil servant of the public before a minister appointed by a president. I only hope that he has learned hard lessons from this incident.