Home > Business and Human Rights, Freedom of Expression > Suspension of MBC General Strike Followed By Employment Termination: Has the Last Bastion for Freedom of the Press Collapsed?

Suspension of MBC General Strike Followed By Employment Termination: Has the Last Bastion for Freedom of the Press Collapsed?

Tues Jun 15

Myungsun Kim

Suspension of the Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC) union’s thirty-nine day general strike, was soon followed by the company’s decision to terminate the union leader Lee Geun-haeng and take disciplinary action against over one hundred union members. MBC is Korea’s second largest broadcasting station and the event in which disciplinary action was taken against such a big number of union members was unprecedented in MB history and exceedingly uncommon throughout the world.

News of the company’s retaliatory actions toward the union brought anger and disappointment to those who saw MBC as “the last bastion” of democracy and freedom of the press in modern Korean society.

Critics and members of the union found MBC’s decision to terminate union leader Lee Geun-haeng especially unfair and “undemocratic,” worrying that the large-scale punishment on the unionists and the termination of Lee Geun-haeng will make a dramatic ending to the government’s “Press Occupation Scenario.”

Arirang TV, Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (Kobaco), YTN, and KBS have already turned into political channels, however MBC had continued its lonely struggle to protect its independence.

MBC unionists launched the walkout on April 5 in opposition to the nomination of pro-government Kim Jae-chul as new MBC president.

“This entire turmoil essentially resulted from the present government’s persistent political conspiracy to use MBC as a government informant.(…) The union will never forgive the government that dismisses the press employees for demanding freedom of the press,” declared the union in the official announcement they issued on June 4.

Seeing as “the major newspapers are already on their (the government’s) side, and KBS and YTN occupied,” the MBC union’s battle was largely unknown to the public. Only a few people knew of the MBC union general strike, and even fewer people knew why the strike occurred.

Choi Moon-soon, a former MBC union leader and now a National Assembly member of the Democratic Party of Korea, said in an interview with Media Today, that in addition to the sequential replacements of high-officials of the press companies, “the current government generally suppresses the freedom of expression in Internet, Culture, and Arts to maintain and secure their political power.”

During his meeting with the MBC union members on May 6, Mr. La Rue said, “even if the government owns or financially supports public broadcasting, independence of the public broadcasting should not be shaken… if it does it is a serious matter…the entire society can be at stake without the diversity of the press.”

The deteriorating human rights situation—particularly the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression—is the reason the MBC union’s strike is so difficult and crucial.

During his visit to the strike scene on Apr 16, former KBS president Chung Yeon-joo spoke to the MBC union members, “I believe you will protect the last bastion (of freedom of the press) well. Fight fiercely, and be patient.”

The union technically suspended the strike on May 13, though the MBC union’s fight to save “the last bastion” campaign persists.

In an interview with the liberal news source, Voice of the People, union leader Lee Geun-haeng stated, “This situation where the company takes disciplinary action against such a large number of union members augmented our anger even

His argument is in line with the press statement delivered on May 17 by the UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue who wrote in the statement, “the full respect for human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression has been diminishing [since the candlelight demonstrations].”

[Timeline]

How Korea’s Major Broadcasting Companies Turned Into Political Channels

Mar 2008 Choi See-joong Appointed as Chairman of the Korean Communications Commissions (KCC).

Choi was known as “MB(Lee Myung-bak)’s mentor”

Koo Bon-hong Appointed as CEO of the YTN

Jun 2008 Chung Kuk-Lok Appointed as CEO of Arirang TV

Yang Hwee-boo Appointed as CEO of the Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation (Kobaco)

Nov 2009 Kim In-kyu Appointed as CEO of the KBS, the largest broad-casting company in Korea
Feb 2010 Former MBC President Ohm Ki-young replaced by pro-government Kim Jae-chul
Apr 5

May 6

May 13

June 7

MBC Unionists Begin a General Strike, Demanding New President Kim’s Resignation

UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue Visits MBC Unionists

MBC Union Members Decide to Suspend Their Strike

Employment Termination Follows Strike Suspension; MBC Decides to Terminate Union Leader Lee Geun-haeng and Take Disciplinary Actions Against over One Hundred Union Members.

***High officials of nearly all the major broadcasting companies were replaced by those in favor of President Myung-bak Lee. CEOs of YTN, Arirang TV, Kobaco, and KBS helped President Lee in his presidential campaign as special assistants.

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