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Culture minister nominee warns celebrities to be cautious over political speech

Oct. 4, 2023 - 14:45 By Lee Jaeeun
Yu In-chon, special presidential adviser for culture and sports, speaks in a press briefing at the presidential office in Seoul after being nominated to be the new culture minister, Sept. 13. (Yonhap)

Culture Minister nominee Yu In-chon said Tuesday that public figures should be careful when speaking out publicly, when asked about his thoughts on a social media post by a singer concerning Japan's discharge of contaminated water.

“Although anyone is free to express their opinions, when it comes to celebrities or public figures who have social influence, they should be careful when they publicly speak about something because it comes along with responsibility," he said in a written answer submitted to the National Assembly ahead of the parliamentary hearing on his nomination.

He was asked by parliamentary committee members to write his thoughts on celebrities expressing their views on social issues, referring to Kim Yuna, the singer for rock band Jaurim, as an example. Kim said in her social media post that she was thinking of "hell" when the Japanese government started releasing treated wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean in late August.

Opposition lawmakers criticize Yu’s remarks, predicting a recurrence of a blacklist of liberal cultural figures should Yu become culture minister again. He previously served in the same role in the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2008-2011.

The floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, Hong Ihk-pyo, said in an interview with MBC Radio on Wednesday: “Yu’s remarks were inappropriate as a culture minister nominee. When politicians take issue with celebrities’ remarks one by one, celebrities may feel an emotional burden (so they may impose self-censorship before they say something), which in itself is a process of creating a kind of blacklist.”

The Lee administration was accused by several cultural groups and legal representatives of maintaining a blacklist of left-leaning cultural figures and mobilizing the National Intelligence Service to disadvantage them.

Yu, who was culture minister at the time the blacklist was allegedly drawn up, denied the allegations in his written answers, saying, “There was no blacklist during the Lee Myung-bak administration.”

A hearing on Yu's nomination is set to be held Thursday.