Unionists at KBS, MBC go on massive strike over alleged political bias

TV viewers may be stuck with repeats and news programs cut in half as workers at the country’s two biggest terrestrial broadcasters plan strikes to demanding their presidents step down.

It is the first time that the broadcasters have been hit with sit-in protests at the same time.

On Friday, one of two major union groups at Korea Broadcasting System, the nation’s most powerful radio and TV network, said it will launch an indefinite strike on March 6. The move is a response to management’s refusal to withdraw disciplinary measures against 13 workers who participated in a previous walkout in 2010. The union launched a sit-in protest in 2010 criticizing the broadcaster’s “unbalanced and pro-government” news coverage.

MBC President Kim Jae-chul (second from right) is surrounded by union workers calling for his resignation at the broadcasting company in Yeouido, Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap News)

The upcoming strike next month will likely affect production of news and other programs as its 1,000 members are mostly reporters and producers at KBS headquarters in Seoul, it said. However, the bigger union with 3,000 members will not participate in the strike.

For last three weeks, unionists at Munhwa Broadcasting Station, the second-biggest broadcaster here, have been urging its president Kim Jae-cheul to step down over alleged political bias. They argue that MBC had intentionally taken out or reduced reports on FTA rallies and suspicions over President Lee Myung-bak’s retirement home in Seoul. The strike is affecting nearly all news and entertainment programs at the station.

The MBC union is gaining support from executive-level officials including news anchors Choi Il-koo and Kim Se-yong. On Thursday, the two said they would resign as deputy heads of MBC’s newsroom, saying they sympathised with reporters trying to pursue fair and balanced journalism.

The next day, MBC’s president said he would take all possible measures to halt the strike. Kim and the management ordered unionists to return to work by 9 a.m. Monday or face disciplinary measures.

Kim has been staying away from union workers in order to avoid “unnecessary clashes” with them.

The strike sentiment has spread to other companies in the nation’s media industry. A union cable news channel YTN is holding a vote on the strike. The result is due Wednesday. The strike would protest the company’s decision to reappoint incumbent president Bae Seok-kyu. The YTN workers claim that Bae asked board members to help him serve a second term at a closed-door meeting.

Some workers at Yonhap News Agency have also been publicly criticizing the company for unbalanced news coverage, according to local reports.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldm.com)

Credit: The Korea Herald

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