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More journalists to support MBC strike

The nation’s largest umbrella union of journalists is set to support media workers on strike against what they call interference by politically biased management in news reporting.

Members of the National Union of Media Workers gathered at Seoul Plaza around 3 p.m. Friday to protest the administration’s alleged ongoing interference and suppression of freedom of speech. They vowed to support the ongoing strike at three national broadcasters ― MBC, KBS and YTN ― and Yonhap news agency.

Unionists of three other broadcasting networks ― SBS, CBS and OBS ― said they would express their support for the strikes. News reporters of SBS and CBS said they would wear “all black” garments and accessories when they appear on air as an expression of “condolences” over the “death of media,” while CBS promised to dig into the reasons why the workers are on strike on Friday. The broadcasters have maintained silence in response to the collective action.

“The workers have shared the understanding that it is about time we showed our appreciation for MBC, KBS, YTN and Yonhap workers’ struggles to defend the principles of media, which is to stay fair and alert to all absurdities in politically chaotic situations. We will air Friday’s general meeting and make follow-through reports of the media workers’ rallies from now,” said Choi Ho-won, a spokesperson of the SBS union.

“Our ‘performance’ is to show support for our colleagues,” said Kim Sung-soo, leader of the OBS union.

MBC have marked their 54th day of striking and KBS its 17th, with both calling for their CEOs to step down and restore “neutrality” in their programs. The union of the 24-hour cable news channel YTN has staged its third “weekend strike” calling for its CEO to abandon his bid for a second term and reinstate six former colleagues fired for leading a general strike several years ago. Yonhap staff, on the ninth day of their sit-in, are making similar demands.

The unions at the four companies have repeatedly called for their management’s resignation, a guarantee of political neutrality and the right to investigate and report irregularities without sanction.

All their CEOs have been regarded as being close to President Lee Myung-bak and are accused by unions of ordering the deletion of articles critical of the Lee administration and “glorifying its achievements.”

Most of MBC’s highest profile shows have been cancelled and news programs have been slashed to less than 10 minutes.

MBC recently asked the court for a 3.3 billion won provisional seizure against its union members. Management has also sacked two union leaders and imposed heavy penalties on several others. Yonhap’s CEO said he would consider giving up his second term should the unionists return to work, but the workers rejected the offer.

Observers said journalists’ strike may not end easily.

“Since it is the last year of the Lee administration, the government will strive to keep the media under its influence. Therefore no matter how long the strikes continue the management is unlikely to accept the union’s demand,” said a government insider to a local daily.

Reporters Sans Frontiers ranked South Korea 44th in freedom of expression and the Freedom House degraded the country’s media status from free to partly free during the Lee administration.

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