Photo: Land Minister Won Hee-ryong (front right) at Dongtan. Credit: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
At 7:37 a.m. on May 30, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport 국토교통부 issued a press release that began with this sentence: “On May 30 at 14:00, Land Minister Won Hee-ryong 원희룡 국토교통부 장관 visited the Dongtan Station 동탄역 construction site, the terminus of the GTX-A line, and held a town hall with local residents.”
Not content to describe in the past tense an event to be held more than six hours in the future, the press release continued with a precise description of what would be said at the town hall: “A Dongtan resident at the town hall said: ‘Seoul is not accessible from Dongtan via subway; we have to take the regional bus 광역버스, and it takes an hour and a half.’”
The press release came with a reminder: embargoed until May 30 at 3 p.m.
Many leading outlets such as JTBC and Maeil Economy 매일경제 dutifully ran articles on Won’s visit to Dongtan - including the quote from the “Dongtan resident” that was obviously fake. To his credit, Kim Beom-ju 김범주 of SBS News sounded an alarm: “I have been a journalist for over 20 years and I have never seen a press release like this.”
Although the magnitude of the falsehood may be small, the episode is emblematic of South Korea’s media environment: the conservative government lies blithely, and the media simply repeats it.