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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 8)

2017/09/08 07:03

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Broadcasters' strike

Early solution to production boycott to restore public trust

KBS and MBC union members went on strike simultaneously this week, calling for the resignation of their CEOs and the restoration of political neutrality at public broadcasters.

This is the first time in five years that workers at the nation's two major public broadcasters have staged a walkout together since the 2012 protest against the Lee Myung-bak administration's attempts to control the media.

The KBS union members, including more than 1,000 producers and reporters, are calling for CEO Ko Dae-young to resign for allegedly exerting undue influence on political angles in news broadcasting. "The general strike will be our last-ditch effort to end nine years of fabrication, forgery and oppression," the union said in a statement.

At MBC, some 400 reporters, photojournalists, producers are boycotting news production, demanding that CEO Kim Jang-gyeom step down for his interference in news production to spread content favorable to the previous Park Geun-hye administration. The MBC workers had been protesting against what they claim are "retaliatory transfers" after airing news content critical of former President Lee. Both CEOs are resisting the mounting calls to resign and have denied the allegations.

The strikes have hampered production of news and other programs at both broadcasters, with some failing to air as scheduled.

The CEOs may have been responsible for damaging the independence and objectivity of public broadcasters during the conservative administrations. That should be dealt with without fail. But the journalists and other workers should find a way of resolving it without causing a production boycott because they are failing in their duty as public broadcasters, compromising the viewers' right to watch.

The ongoing strikes inflict irreparable damage to the quality of programs. Journalists have a public role of reporting the news in a fair and objective manner. When they are prevented from carrying out that role, it is right to speak up about it.

But they also have to take into consideration their CEOs were appointed according to the law and due procedures.

It is imperative for both sides to start looking for solutions to resolve their disputes and also discuss ways to rebuild public broadcasting and win back the viewers' trust.

In addition, the government should disengage from any acts that can be seen as instigating the unions to dislodge the CEOs.

During a briefing by the Korea Communications Commission, President Moon Jae-in said that "public broadcasting had totally collapsed in the last 10 years. " The opposition parties objected to Moon's assertion, saying that the government was taking control of the media after a court warrant was issued to detain the MBC chief.

The Moon administration should realize it may be repeating the attempts by the previous government to make broadcasters subservient to its political purposes, the very practice that it has despised.