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[Newsmaker] Singer’s 2011 expulsion from MBC sheds new light on blacklist scandal

The ongoing investigation into two previous governments‘ blacklist of cultural figures continues to unearth more dirt, with a recent revelation that Lee Myung-bak administration used one of its supporters as a scapegoat to hide its wrong-doings.

A 2011 document of the National Intelligence Service, revealed recently by Kyunghyang Shinmun, a local daily, showed that MBC’s sacking of singer Kim Heung-gook that year was part of the conservative administration’s plan to extract left-leaning entertainers from TV and radio shows.

A series of investigations by the current administration has shown that the Park Geun-hye administration had labelled culture figures who are left-leaning or who have spoken against the government as “pro-North,” and barred them from receiving state funding. The investigation was expanded in September to include the Lee administration, after it was revealed that Lee had kept a similar blacklist as well.

Kim Heung-gook (Herald DB)
Kim Heung-gook (Herald DB)

The NIS document quoted an MBC official as saying that Kim Jae-chul -- then-president of the public broadcaster -- had been working toward bashing programs like “PD Notebook,” a popular investigative journalism program, a matter “of special interest of the VIP (the president).” The program had fallen out of favor with the authorities after it reported on the 2008 resumption of US beef import in a critical way.

While the singer Kim Heung-gook, a co-host of a popular MBC afternoon radio show, had been one of most avid and vocal supporters of the Lee administration -- he was a confidant to then-ruling party lawmaker Chung Mong-joon -- he was used as a red herring to hide the true nature of the sacking of “left-leaning” celebrities.

“We now are able to commence ‘eradication’ of pro-North celebrities,” then MBC president Kim Jae-chul said in the document. “We believe that Kim’s sacrifice is worth (getting rid of) four or five (left-leaning celebrities).”

Kim, who at the time protested the decision by shaving his head and claiming it was a “witch hunt,” refused to comment on the matter.

His departure from MBC came after comedians Kim Mi-hwa, Kim Je-dong and singer Yoon Do-hyun -- all of whom were later revealed to have been on the blacklist -- were ousted from the broadcaster.

While Kim’s departure raised eyebrows, MBC denied the allegations that it had been politically motivated.

The blacklisted celebrities fumed at the revelation that the Lee administration had used one of its supporters to mask its misdeeds.

Former politician and actor Moon Sung-keun, another celebrity on the blacklist, tweeted, “Sigh...They’re just bad people.”

“You cannot help but be in awe at the amazing work of badge-wearing insiders (of MBC). To get rid of me?” Kim Mi-hwa said. On Sunday, she appeared on an MBC TV program for the first time in six years, and said in tears that she feels “the times have finally changed.”

The pair, along with 28 other culture figures, filed a lawsuit against ex-President Lee and former NIS chief Won Se-hoon last week, seeking 5 million won ($4,606) in damages each.

By Yoon Min-sik (