MBC strike holds viewers hostage
MBC president Kim Jae-chul, left, walks toward the headquarters of the Foundation for Broadcasting Culture in Yeouido, while striking MBC reporters boo him on the sidelines in this March 7 file photo. Nearly 300 MBC reporters and producers have been staging a walkout for more than 3 months, demanding Kim step down from his post. / Korea Times
Scheduling disruptions continue in management-worker ego duel
By Na Jeong-ju
Viewers and cable channel subscribers are growing weary of the prolonged strike of unionized journalists at three major broadcasters and a news agency. Extended disruptions of popular programs and news services don't help anyone.
The question is: Should they remain patient about the walkouts or tell the striking journalists and producers, 'Enough! Get back to work'.
At the other end of the spectrum, the demands of the striking employees are simple and clear. They want their presidents, named by President Lee Myung-bak directly and indirectly, to step down and the government not to intervene in management and respect the constitutional freedom of the press.
A majority of the people eagerly support their cause but without any signs of a breakthrough in the strike, an increasing number of viewers are getting sick of the sub-standard alternative programs and reruns.
MBC's flagship weekly variety show "Infinite Challenge", directed by Kim Tae-ho, hasn't produced any new episodes since early February when Kim joined the union's strike against the firm's President Kim Jae-chul. The broadcaster, instead, has provided reruns and poorly-edited versions that were full of cutting and pasting from previous episodes.
The joint strike at TV networks has wreaked havoc, not only on popular programs, but also on their reputation and advertisement sales. Viewer ratings have plummeted. Instead the cable networks operated by the four conservative newspapers are said to be enjoying a slight turnaround from a poor start in December.
It's still early to say whether the ongoing walkouts will reshape viewers' channel preferences, but striking workers are now blamed by managers for falling popularity.
"I wonder if the striking TV men are taking into consideration the rights of the viewers. I just want to watch my favorite programs", a blogger said in a post on MBC's website. "I'm sick and tired of all the reruns and poor-quality programs".
The unionists' struggle stretches back to January.
A group of MBC reporters refused to produce stories on Jan. 25. Five days later, the MBC union staged a general strike. They were joined later by unionists from KBS, the cable news channel YTN and the Yonhap News Agency.
"Our strike is not about money, but about our wish to produce fair and unbiased reporting", said Lee Kang-taek, chairman of the National Union of Media Workers.
In fact, media outlets here have been heavily influenced by those at the center of power.
In the 1970s, then-President Park Chung-hee cut advertising to critical newspapers to tame and use them as his "mouthpieces". In the 1980s, Chun Doo-hwan forcefully merged media firms and many journalists who protested lost their jobs. Liberal leaders Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun also targeted big conservative dailies.
More recently President Lee appointed his cronies as heads of major TV networks thereby taking firm control of them. Kim In-kyu, head of state-owned KBS, was his media advisor. Kim Jae-chul, president of semi-state-controlled MBC, reportedly has close ties to presidential aides.
Unionists claim that these new bosses damaged the media's political neutrality by blocking critical reports on President Lee and his conservative administration. In retaliation, the puppet-bosses have sacked union leaders and taken discriminative measures against striking unionists, calling the strikes "illegal".
Critics say the principle of fair reporting and freedom of the press were severely damaged under the Lee administration, and this is why there should be a revision of related laws to prevent the head of a state from influencing appointments of managers at public news outlets.
"Currently, the President names the chairman of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), which supervises public broadcasters. That means executives of the firms are under the control of the President", said Lee Nam-pyo, a journalism professor of Sungkyunkwan University.
"The country needs to set up a politically-neutral recommendation committee encompassing scholars, senior journalists and legal experts to choose their managers".
The journalists have vowed to continue their strike until their demands are met. However, as long as the issue is tied to politics and politicians don't relinquish the desire to control state media for their own interests, their future will remain uncertain, experts said.
"The current managers of the state-run and public media firms were chosen by President Lee, so he has the biggest responsibility for what's happening today", said Prof. Kim Kyung-hwan from Sangji University.
Many viewers have urged striking journalists and their management to better serve the public by narrowing their differences and normalizing their operation.
"Yes. We all face a dilemma. But both journalists' fight for democracy and viewers' rights should be respected", Prof. Kim said. "Under the current circumstances, however, the only way to solve the problem is a political compromise".
Saenuri leader asked to untangle the knot
Kim forecast the case could emerge as a hot political issue ahead of the presidential election in December.
In early April, Moon Seong-geun, an actor-turned-politician who became the acting chairman of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) in the wake of the party's defeat in the parliamentary elections, made a surprise visit to the journalists' rallies to encourage them. It was his first official public appearance since taking the position.
How to deal with the striking journalists is quite a pain in the neck for ruling Saenuri Party leader Park Geun-hye, who herself is now being attacked for her alleged link to a scholarship foundation which has exerted influence on media firms. The Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation, headed by Park for 10 years until 2005, has a 100-percent stake in the Busan Daily and a 30-percent stake in MBC. Unionists of the newspaper have also walked out in protest of the foundation's alleged intervention in its editorial policy. It is now headed by Philip Choi, an aide to Park.
Park has remained silent on the strike, and her aides have passed the buck to an unfair and biased media policy of the Lee administration. This doesn't stop Park from feeling greater pressure to respond to public voices amid expectations that the issue could be a stumbling block in her presidential campaign.
"The fundamental problem lies in how politicians treat state media. That's why Saenuri leader Park, the de-facto presidential candidate, should act now", Kim said.
Sources & Credits : Korea Times , Hancinema
ppl are really complaining because their favourite shows aren't aired anymore? Are they still aware that at the end of the day all the staff fights for the country's freedom of speech? Who cares about popular tv shows right now? It's human's freedom that matters the most. Go MBC's strike! hwaiting!