Did the South Korean president use vulgar language in a speech?

Verdict: False
By Taejun Kang for RFA
2024.02.26
Taipei, Taiwan
Did the South Korean president use vulgar language in a speech?
Photo: RFA

A claim emerged on Korean-language posts that South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol used vulgar language during a January speech, citing a video as evidence. 

But the claim is false. The subtitles of the video are fake and misrepresent what Yoon said. A review of the full clip of Yoon’s speech shows that he made no vulgar remarks. 

The screenshots were shared on the popular South Korean online community Etoland on Jan. 18. Etoland users are typically backers of South Korea’s Democratic Party, known for its pro-China stance.

“Yoon Suk Yeol becomes huffy when a citizen mentions the R&D budget,” reads the claim in part. R&D, or Research and Development, involves innovating and improving products or processes, essential for competitive advantages.

The claim was shared alongside what appears to be screenshots of a video that shows Yoon’s speech. 

A subtitle overlaid on the screenshot features Yoon’s face, seemingly transcribing his comments, stating: “Because you guys keep bullshitting about the R&D budget, we’ll significantly increase it. We only cut R&D by 5 trillion Korean won, so stop talking shit.”

Did the S Korean President use vulgar language during latest speech_ _工作區域 1 複本.png
Screenshot of Etoland’s post. Captured on Feb. 21, 2024

The same claim and screenshots were shared on Bobaedream, another popular online community in South Korea, as well as on YouTube.

But the claim is false. 

Original video

A combination of keyword and image searches found the screenshots were taken from a video that shows Yoon’s policy briefing session on Jan. 4. 

A separate search found the full version of the clip posted by South Korea’s state-run KTV on its YouTube channel on Jan. 5.

The scene seen in the screenshots with fake subtitles starts at the video’s one-hour, 17-minute and 12-second mark. 

“I will drastically increase the R&D budget during my tenure.” Yoon said. “However, for now, we have reduced it a little, but not by a lot.”

A review of the original video shows Yoon made no vulgar comments during his speech. 

False Narrative

In 2022, Yoon was accused by a local broadcaster MBC of swearing after a brief meeting with the U.S. President Joe Biden at the Global Fund in New York. 

In September 2022, MBC released a video of Yoon with the subtitles saying, “If those [expletive] do not pass it in the [parliament], [Biden] will lose face,” while leaving the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference.

However, the presidential office said then that the actual word used was “nallimeun,” the Korean word for “throw out,” rather than “Biden.” It said that Yoon’s actual words were: 

"If they do not pass it in the [parliament], [then] throw [the bill] out."

Yoon’s office sued MBC, claiming it had misrepresented comments caught on a hot mic in which he appeared to insult the United States.

In January, a Seoul court ruled in favor of Yoon, finding his comments were not clear due to background noise. 

Separately, the Korea Communications Standards Commission, an institution of the South Korean government that regulates communications including film, television, radio and internet, decided to fine MBC on Tuesday over its coverage of Yoon’s 2022 remarks.

“It is fair to say that the media escalated the president’s private conversation to a diplomatic issue by reporting Yoon’s words between its advisers and staff,” said standing commissioner Hwang Seong-wook.

Since MBC’s 2022 report, however, critics have frequently scrutinized Yoon’s public speaking abilities and demeanor, labeling him as “not suitable” for public addresses. Some have even falsely speculated that dementia impedes his ability to speak effectively in public.

Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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