First Lady Kim Keon-hee Continues Activities “in Private” Accompanied by Her Exclusive Photo Crew

Shim Jin-yong 2022. 11. 24. 16:17
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First lady Kim Keon-hee engages in a conversation with first lady Rachel Ruto, wife of Kenyan President William Ruto, at the Office of the President in Yongsan on November 23. Courtesy of the Office of the President

On the afternoon of November 23, first lady Kim Keon-hee had a conversation with Rachel Ruto, the wife of William Ruto, the president of the Republic of Kenya. Again, only the photographers employed by the Office of the President--and no members of the press--accompanied the first lady on her trip. The results of the conversation were released to the public in a written briefing. The controversy over the use of lighting and the accusation of conceptual photography surrounding the first lady’s actions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia has escalated after the Office of the President filed a criminal report. People criticized that the lack of transparency in the information being conveyed due to the first lady’s continuous activities “in private” was what was stirring controversy.

On November 23, first lady Kim Keon-hee shared views on common interests, such as a stop to animal abuse and climate change, in the conversation with first lady Rachel Ruto, according to the written briefing by Lee Jae-myung, deputy spokesperson for the presidential office. According to Lee, first lady Ruto asked how South Korea managed to achieve such fast economic growth, and Kim explained about the hardworking nature, the spirit of unity, and the passion for education of the Korean people. The first lady also introduced the Saemaul Undong and spoke about how several African countries were recently trying to introduce this movement in their countries. Kim then mentioned the Kenyan people and animals suffering from the worst drought in forty years and stressed, “We need to ponder together how to make a world where people and animals can coexist,” and Ruto also agreed on the gravity of climate change, according to Lee.

The first lady’s activities, which have been conducted in private and disclosed to the public after the events, continue to stir controversy.

On Tuesday, the Office of the President filed a criminal report against Jang Kyung-tae, a member of the Democratic Party of Korea’s Supreme Council, who criticized the first lady of engaging in poverty porn and taking conceptual photos and claimed she even used lighting for the pictures when visiting a boy with heart disease in Phnom Penh.

The presidential office argued that Jang undermined national interest with fake news, but people also argued that the first lady’s activities accompanied only by her exclusive staff triggered more controversy. If the press was granted access and open coverage carried out, it would have reduced the chances of such controversy. Earlier, the Office of the President explained that the first lady’s meeting with the sick boy in Phnom Penh was conducted privately because of “the pressure on the other party,” and because “There was no reason to disclose the details of a consultation with the medical staff concerning the individual’s treatment and recovery.” However, apart from this explanation, all of the first lady’s public activities recently were conducted in private regardless of the formality and nature of the event. The press was not allowed access to the first lady’s schedules in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Bali, Indonesia during President Yoon Suk-yeol’s latest trip to Southeast Asia.

First lady Kim resumed public activities in mid-October. On October 13, the Office of the President announced that the first lady visited a graveyard in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do on the second anniversary of the death of an abused child in Yangcheon-gu, the previous day, and released pictures believed to be taken by the photographers hired by the presidential office. On October 18, the first lady attended a bazaar organized by the Korean Red Cross, again accompanied by her exclusive photographers. Meanwhile, Anna’s House shared news that the first lady volunteered and served food at Anna’s House, a facility for the rehabilitation of street people in Seongnam, Gyeonggi-do, in August. Afterwards, the Office of the President sent a notice to the press explaining how the first lady came to volunteer at Anna’s House.

The first lady stayed out of the public eye, minimizing her schedules for nearly three months until her visit to Yangpyeong. Speculations continued that the Office of the President was managing risks after the first lady ended up at the center of controversy due to a civilian accompanying her to the NATO summit and the presidential office hiring the first lady’s personal acquaintances. This also seems to be why the first lady has been conducting all her activities only with her exclusive staff after resuming public activities.

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