Former International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Board member So-Whan Hyon, a previous head of South Korea’s Yonhap national news agency and a tireless defender of press freedom in his home country and abroad, died on Saturday, July 28, 2018. He was 80.
Hyon was elected president and CEO of Yonhap in 1991, serving for six years. During his tenure Hyon also served as chair of the organizing committee for IPI’s World Congress and 44th General Assembly in Seoul in May 1995. In 1996, the IPI Executive Board named Hyon an IPI Fellow in recognition of his contribution to IPI’s global work since joining the organization as a member in 1982. Hyon was elected to the IPI Executive Board in 2005 and served until 2013.
“So-Whan Hyon’s passion and perseverance in pursuit of press freedom will be deeply missed by all of us at IPI”, current IPI Executive Board Chair Markus Spillman said. “He contributed so much to IPI in the 36 years he was a member of this organization.”
In 2001, Hyon led a joint IPI/World Association of Newspapers (WAN) press freedom mission to South Korea weeks after tax authorities had imposed a record US$ 390 million in fines against 23 Seoul-based media outlets following a large-scale tax probe. Prosecutors also indicted six media corporations and 13 media executives on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement, several of whom – including then-IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Bang Sang-hoon – were jailed. IPI criticized the tax cases as a politically motivated campaign to muzzle the voice of media critical of then-President Kim Dae-jung’s policies. While serving on IPI’s Executive Board, Hyon introduced several General Assembly resolutions on South Korea and continued to advise on laws negatively affecting press freedom in the country.
N. Ravi, a fellow former Board member and current chair of IPI’s India National Committee, said: “It is sad and distressing to hear of the passing of So-Whan. He was a passionate advocate of press freedom and a committed and active supporter of IPI. I remember his forthright interventions in Board meetings and General Assemblies. He was a very good friend, always courteous and helpful. His passing is a great loss to the cause of press freedom, and freedoms in general.”
Former IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Simon Li added: “I best remember So-Whan as a board member tenacious about issues affecting S. Korea. He was full of camaraderie and joyous fellowship.”
So-Whan Hyon was born on August 1, 1937, near Taegu, South Korea. He graduated from Seoul National University, majoring in political science. After six years of compulsory military service, Hyon began his journalistic career with the Orient Press news agency in 1965. He was dispatched to New York as U.N. correspondent in 1973 and moved to Washington, D.C., in 1975 to cover the Koreagate influence-peddling scandal and other issues affecting U.S.-South Korean relations.
A few months after Hyon returned to South Korea in 1981, Orient Press was merged into Yonhap news agency. Hyon was appointed political editor and later promoted to deputy managing editor, editor for international affairs and managing director for news. He was in charge of news operations during the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both of which were held in Seoul.
In 1991, Yonhap shareholders appointed Hyon as president and CEO, the first time a former “cub reporter” was promoted to the company’s top position. In 1993, Hyon founded YTN, South Korea’s first 24-hour news broadcaster. After retiring from Yonhap, Hyon founded an online news site called News and News in 2003.