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Former, current MBC chiefs quizzed over alleged unfair labor practices

The chief of South Korea's major public broadcaster MBC and one of his predecessors were questioned by the labor ministry Tuesday over allegations that they violated labor laws and unfairly exerted influence over personnel affairs at the company based on political bias.

Kim Jang-kyom, president and CEO of MBC, appeared at a Seoul district agency of the Ministry of Employment and Labor to be interrogated over the suspicions, according to the ministry.

He is accused of meddling in the news production in favor of the previous conservative Park Geun-hye government and abusing his authority in personnel matters by disadvantaging some employees who refused to follow his directions.
MBC President and CEO Kim Jang-kyom appears at a Seoul district agency of the labor ministry to be questioned over alleged unfair labor practices on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)
MBC President and CEO Kim Jang-kyom appears at a Seoul district agency of the labor ministry to be questioned over alleged unfair labor practices on Sept. 5, 2017. (Yonhap)

Kim Jae-chul, a former MBC chief who served from 2012 to 2013, was also summoned later in the day to be questioned over similar allegations, the agency said.

Kim Jang-kyom, the former managing editor of the MBC news desk, on the contrary, accused the labor union of threatening him for political purposes now that the new government is run by liberal President Moon Jae-in.

After the end of his interrogation, Kim Jang-kyom told reporters, "Even though I've been the president for only six months, I answered the questions the best I could."

Kim refused to answer further questions from the media, including on whether he would consider resigning.

Kim had been previously summoned by the government office for questioning after MBC employees, including journalists and producers, lodged a formal complaint against him. But the MBC chief refused to make an appearance, claiming the summons was politically intended and an infringement of freedom of speech and media independence.

His repeated refusal prompted a Seoul district court to issue a detention warrant on him Friday.

Hundreds of unionized employees at MBC and KBS, another public broadcaster, went on strike simultaneously earlier this week, urging their chiefs to resign and calling for the independence of news production.

The government inquiry and court warrant on Kim fueled parliamentary wrangling on the issue, leading the main opposition Liberty Korea Party to boycott all regular sessions at the National Assembly on Monday.

Meanwhile, KBS filed an "urgent" request late Tuesday with the labor ministry to intervene in the walkout and bring the journalists and production crew back to work.

Citing the emergency security situation on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea's sixth nuclear test on Sunday, the network said the workers should return to work to fulfill the responsibility for news reporting.

According to the relevant laws, the labor minister has the authority to intervene in a strike deemed to put public interest at jeopardy. There have been four cases in the past where a labor minister ordered workers on strike to return to work.

Both networks have reduced their prime time news coverage due to staff shortage. (Yonhap)