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Three broadcasters stage joint strike

Demand CEOs resign to take responsibility for ‘censoring news’


Unions at three leading broadcasters agreed Monday to stage a joint strike against what they claim is interference in reporting from politically biased management.

This is the first time the three networks will carry out a simultaneous strike and their collective action is expected to have an impact on the April general elections.

The union members from KBS, MBC and YTN held a launch ceremony of their walkout in central Seoul on Monday evening.

“The three companies’ joint action may be seen as having a political demeanor but it is more of an ‘explosion’ against what we had to bear for 3-4 years,” said an MBC unionist.

“It is a showdown,” he said.

The union of MBC, the nation’s second-largest terrestrial broadcaster, has been on strike for 37 days, calling for their CEO, Kim Jae-chul, to step down.

Workers at KBS, the state-run terrestrial network, will begin their sit-in on Tuesday, demanding that their CEO Kim In-kyu resign.

Unionists of YTN, a 24-hour cable news channel, have agreed to down their tools from Thursday, urging their CEO Bae Seok-kyu to abandon his bid for a second term and reinstate six former colleagues who were sacked for leading a general strike several years ago.

The presidents of the three companies are close associates of President Lee Myung-bak and are accused of pressuring news reporters and producers of investigative programs to overlook politically sensitive issues, and over-emphasize the administration’s “achievements.”

The strike will focus on demanding the managements’ resignation, a guarantee of political neutrality and the right to investigate and report irregularities without sanction.

This is not the first time the unionists have clashed with the management.

YTN, where 208 out of 368 union members voted for the strike, has maintained frosty relations with management since six union leaders were sacked in 2008 due to their general strike against the appointment of then president Koo Bon-hong, who was President Lee Myung-bak’s media adviser.

“We have already lost colleagues in our last battle. We won’t let that happen again,” a union member said.

The reporters’ union at KBS promised to join the production departments’ walkout on Tuesday.

In 2009, the company’s union sought to strike in protest against Kim In-kyu. Kim had ordered the omission of articles critical of the Lee administration, such as reports on the four-river refurbishment project and Lee’s attempt to buy real estate in southern Seoul under his son’s name.

The struggle ended with 13 union leaders being heavily disciplined and unable to return to the newsroom.

The strike at MBC is also the third of its kind under the Lee Myung-bak administration. But this time, more people have vowed to participate.

After a 36-day walkout against president Kim Jae-chul, 12 mid-to-high level workers have decided to forfeit their titles and return as low-ranking workers who are eligible to join the union and the strike.

They were called into a disciplinary committee on Monday, but showed no signs of going back on their decision.

“I felt humiliated when sources refused to interview us or our audience denounced our political bias. We are going back to the basics,” one of the official said before entering the committee meeting.

More than 160 reporters on Monday threatened to quit if the management tried to settle the case through discipline rather than negotiation.

The workers’ strike is expected to deal a heavy blow to the news stations.

MBC has cut the running time of its prime time news show, “News Desk,” to less than 15 minutes. The program has seen a dramatic drop in viewers ratings.

Observers said other stations are likely to undergo similar hardships.

However, Lee Kye-cheol, nominee for chairman of the Korea Communications Commission, refused to arbitrate on the matter.

“It is a very internal matter for the companies. The government should not interfere,” he said at the confirmation hearing for his appointment at the National Assembly, Monday.

Unionized workers at state-supported newswire Yonhap News Agency are also to vote on a strike Wednesday for similar reasons.

“We will do whatever it takes to stop the government-friendly management from taking the helm for another term,” a unionist told The Korea Herald.

Some citizens are apparently in favor of the collective actions, despite the possible disruption of their favorite programs.

“We would also like to see news programs revealing the dirty laundry of the administration or powerful people, rather than see the media giving in to the power,” said a netizen on Daum’s Agora webpage.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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