8:39 pm - 03/21/2012

South Korea: Three Major TV Stations Protest for Fair Journalism

In South Korea, following one of biggest television network’s desperate attempt to overthrow its president over unfair news coverage and corruption allegations, the nation’s two other major TV stations have joined forces in standing up against their management, who have been siding with the government and censoring news content critical of the regime.

Since January 2012, MBC has been on an indefinite strike. Some shows have been on hiatus for over two months now and several journalists were fired by the company president before fellow colleagues resigned en masse as a sign of protest.

Now KBS, the nation’s biggest public broadcaster, and YTN, the country's top cable 24-hours news channel, have come together to rally against their own editorial censorship and support MBC's strike.

Videos of protest

This video below is entitled ‘Celebration for (Future) Resignations of Those Media Parachutes' and starts with an image of the three presidents of each company dropping down from the sky and floating around in parachutes.The ‘Parachute’ (or ‘parachute personnel’) in the South Korean corporate world, refers to a person who got the job by a decision made by someone ‘higher', usually through political influence or that of top-level executives, regardless of one’s ability. The video later explains how management has distorted the news in favor of the government (Read more about the strike on another Global Voices article in here).

Several video clips uploaded by mbcunion2012 explain the purpose of the strike in effective and creative ways. This one below takes the form of a song promotion video, borrowing the same melody from the song ‘Itaewon Freedom' and switching it with different lyrics, with a new title ‘MBC Freedom'.

The scene features the inside the MBC building and MBC broadcasters actually perform, sing and dance, which is highly rare for Korean journalism, where newscasters are expected to be serious and maintain an authoritative image. You can get a glimpse of the sheer scale of the protest after 2 minutes 15 seconds, when numerous MBC workers sing together in protest.

Some of the lyrics read:

0 min 20 sec: 요즘 MBC는 안봐 나꼼수면 충분 시청자 왜 눈돌렸나, 정권 비판 뉴스 실종, 누가 MBC 망쳤나. 1 min 비판 실종 MBC, 막장 인사 MBC, 징계 남발 MBC, MB 방송 MBC. 1 min 45 sec 정권엔 충성, 진실 눈감아, 어이가 없어, 더 이상 못 참아.

0 min 20 sec: People dont watch MBC any more nowadays. Watching Naggomsu is enough. Why have audiences turned away from us? Criticism of the government has vanished in the news. Who ruined our MBC? [Naggomsu is the nation's top podcast lampooning the country's president and the ruling party]
1 min : Criticism is lost in MBC! Abysmal staffing in MBC! Punishments [due to personal grudges] are abundant in MBC! MB broadcasts MBC! [MB is the country's President Lee Myung-bak’s initial]
1 min 45 sec : [The leadership] is loyal to regime. The Eyes of Truth were shut down. It is beyond ridiculous. We can't take it any more.

MBC workers took the same song and routine to Seoul railway station, South Korea's major travel gateway, to perform a flash mob. You can take a look at the various responses from passerbys in the video clip below, from befuddled senior citizens to excited young people and people in their 40 and 50s who are genuinely interested in the message.

Even MBC's prime-time news anchor, Choi Il-gu resigned last month, showing support for his fellow workers. In the YouTube video below, Mr. Choi tearfully shout out to his colleagues “This should be the busiest time of the day for news production teams. Why are you guys [having to] doing this [referring to the protest] here?” (0 min 12 sec).

Then Choi ruefully lamented that the freedom of speech in South Korea “has shrunk back to where it was in 1987 or even worse than the past”. The late 1980s was when an authoritarian military regime ruled the nation, brutally clamping down protesters and silencing the media.

Supporting MBC’s move, the KBS Union has joined and posted this creative video of KBS workers doing ‘Sambo Ilbae' (三步一拜), a Korean traditional way of expressing deep regret, apology and strong determination by “bowing down with knees and elbows on the ground on every three steps one takes”.

The video clip shows KBS’s past coverage that overtly humanized and praised the current president and unfairly attacked his political opponents and then switches to scenes of KBS workers doing the ‘Sambo Ilbae’ as an apology for their skewed news coverage.

This video clip entitled ‘Reset KBS' displays KBS workers from various local bureaus calling for restoration of fairness in journalism, stressing that the first crucial step is to change the leadership that fears powerful people instead of the citizen.

Workers from cable news channel YTN also joined the strike by posting a video entitled ‘Angry YTN', which is a video interview with Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at Reporters Without Borders in Paris. In the interview given in French with Korean subtitles, Ismail calls for international support for the strike.

Union workers of Yonhap News Agency, the nation's biggest news agency, also uploaded a YouTube video [ko] apologizing for their biased coverage. But the scale of Yonhap's protest remains pretty small for now.

Here are several more MBC Union video clips about the strike. The one right below is a parody of MBC's documentary on the extinction of emperor penguins, comparing the penguins' crisis with MBC workers' harsh situation, whereby they have to fight in cold weather for their survival.

This video below is a promotion video of a beautiful song called ‘Blue Whale', sung by MBC's most prominent producers, journalists and anchors together. The lyrics are about encouraging people who fight an uphill battle and the singing was guided by one of South Korea's most popular rock musicians, Yoon Do-hyun.

feverwish, mbcunion2012, mbcunion2012 , mediaconan , kbsunion, kbsunion, ytnmania2, mbcunion2012 , mbcunion2012 , globalvoicesonline,
askbask 21st-Mar-2012 07:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah I've been following this through the papers. They can't back down now, they just can't. Let's see the bosses go and hopefully the government toppled come election.

Edited at 2012-03-21 07:47 pm (UTC)
kohaku_chuu 21st-Mar-2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
I really hope these protests have great success...as a JYJ-fan, I couldn't wish more for fair news reports on TV...
Although their case might probably be just the top of the iceberg... :/
izabera 21st-Mar-2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
I wonder how these employees who have been on strike for 2 months already are surviving financially :(
asth77 21st-Mar-2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
Best strike ever, all the effeorts and creativity put into all of this is amazing. Glad to see the flashmob! I feel too proud of Jay's fandom to have made it popular in Korea and I'm glad it is used to fight against limits of freedom of speech! :)
Glad to see all the artists who support their movement, and some of my favourite MCs are there.
I'm so fucking impressed by their teamwork and organization, wow...
count_on_me_jay 21st-Mar-2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
Glad to see the flashmob! I feel too proud of Jay's fandom to have made it popular in Korea
Really? I didn't know about that! Can you tell me more?
asth77 21st-Mar-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)

Well, korean fans tried to find ideas to support Jay and they decided to do the flashmob.
It got really popular in Korea esp when international fans did it as well, imo that was the moment agencies understood how international fans mattered in the fandom of korean idols.. I think that's also the first time the mass public heard about international kpop fans.
After that I regularily saw flashmobs made in korea for all sort of things, and lots of kpop related flashmobs so I assumed my fandom had some kind of role in this.
count_on_me_jay 24th-Mar-2012 05:20 am (UTC)
oh I see!!! Thanks
hpn88 21st-Mar-2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Super interesting OP!
I wonder if the lack of other channels beside MBC/KBS/SBS results in it being easier to control media.
count_on_me_jay 21st-Mar-2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
This was really touching, as a citizen of a country that have to fight to gain its freedom of speech back, I'm close to tears here. I didn't know the situation was this awful in Korea, I mean I only new about the shady broadcats and their corruption and cockblocking but I didn't know it reached that levels of shadyness. Koreans surprised once again with their creativity, really and wacthing the young generation leading the old generation into change it's really heartwarming.

OT mbc workers are really hot ;D
already 22nd-Mar-2012 01:01 am (UTC)
This is impressive. I honestly have no idea of the grasp the government has on the stations but I'm glad at least there's an actual movement to fight for journalism freedom. The videos are touching to watch and very creative as well, the message was conveyed in an effective manner, elegantly and eloquently. Freedom of speech always come at a price and I sincerely hope the protesters don't get dettered in their efforts despite their probable financial struggles during this time.
xiahjunsubias 22nd-Mar-2012 01:37 am (UTC)
The picture of the president and the other guy donating blood reminded me of the scene in City Hunter with the two corrupt cronies.
tsuyoi_hikari 22nd-Mar-2012 02:05 am (UTC)
This is fantastic. I admire them for doing this since freedom of speech is a really important. I hate to see how government using their power to corrupt the mind of the citizen by controlling the mass media. I really do hope they prevail in the end.

Why I admire all these thing, it's kinda sad how this whole thing has affected the quality of their programs or dramas. TMTETS suffers greatly since you can see the second part of the drama lacks strong storyline and plots not to mention character developments. And you can see how the production is made in rush -- I'm glad they still managed to score 48+% ratings from the last episode though. ^^
fecking_tea 22nd-Mar-2012 03:10 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this! Impressed and inspired by the level of creativity and community that these protests show. Let's hope for the best!
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