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South Korea: Journalists Stage Mass Walkout from National Broadcaster

Journalists of one of South Korea's biggest commercial television networks, the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) have been on indefinite strike since January 2012 demanding fair journalism. Around 400 unionized employees [ko] launched the strike, and the dispute is intensifying as more journalists, anchors and producers allege that MBC has omitted and minimized coverage on politically sensitive issues. On March 4, 2012, 166 journalists announced they would quit their jobs [ko] in protest.

Among the allegations are that MBC rarely reports on rallies against a free trade deal with the United States, and have underreported a questionable purchase of land by President Lee Myung-bak for his retirement home. Furthermore, MBC's president, Kim Jae-chul stands accused of censoring and wielding his personal influence on MBC News and MBC's signature investigative program, the PD Notebook, rendering the programs journalistically impotent.

South Koreans have shown support for the strike, although it means that some of their favorite programs are now on hiatus.

An uphill battle

MBC television journalist, Jung Woo-young (@mbcjwytweeted [ko] his experience of the strike:

파업 36일..아내가 좋아하는 음악학원을 끊자고 아이를 설득합니다. 사장은 세명의 해고자를 만들었고 용역 수십명을 사내에 배치했습니다. 정치권은 공천 밥그릇 챙기기에 바쁘고 눈치보는 언론들은 애써 외면합니다. 그래서 MBC 파업 꼭 이기고 싶습니다.

It is the 36th day of the strike. My wife persuaded our kid to stop taking music lessons. The company's president has already fired three people and deployed dozens of company-hired gangs inside the MBC building. The politicians are busy getting nominations, while the media is making considerable efforts to look away from the problem. That is why I so badly want to win this strike.

South Korea's best-selling author and one of the nation's top 5 influential twitterers, Lee Oi-soo (@oisootweeted [ko]:

보아라, 양심 있는 자들이 울면서 직장을 떠나고 있다. 한사코 붙박여 비굴한 눈칫밥으로 연명하는 사람들아. 인생길 가다 보면 오르막도 있고 내리막도 있는 법. 기다려라. 당신들이 울면서 떠나갈 날도 얼마 남지 않았으니[...]

Look. People of conscience are tearfully quitting their jobs. You – people who submissively and gutlessly cling to their livelihoods – remember that we will all encounter ups and downs in our lives – wait till the moment comes when it is your turn to leave in tears.

The MBC labor union's twitter account @saveourmbc linked to a YouTube video [ko] of a photo montage of journalists fighting for fair journalism including the names of those who were fired:

They also posted a photo of “company-hired thugs” being briefed in the MBC building:

사측에서는 청경 충원이라는 입장.. RT @saveourmbc: 김재철이 부른 용역 사진 한장 더.. 공개 스튜디오에 모여서 뭔가 교육받고 있나 봅니다.. 잘만하면 백명 될듯.. twitpic.com/8s4x1v

The company later claimed this was when they recruited more building security. RT @saveourmbc: One more photo of company-hired thugs brought in by Kim Jae-chul. It seems that guidelines on something are being given to them in the open studio. There could be up to a hundred of them.
company-hired gang on strike

Photo of company-hired gang/extra security force inside MBC building, Twitter photo by @saveourmbc

Han Hak-soo (@mbcpdhan), an MBC producer whose twitter profile reads, “Now on strike [...] MBC has collapsed. Resign Kim Jae-chul” posted photos from a rally.

MBC strike

Photo of MBC strike, Twitter Photo of @mbcpdhan

About 40 movie directors released a statement [ko] supporting the strike. The Korean Twittersphere lit up with various responses, mostly tweets that express understanding and encouragement.

Song Yo-hoon (@syh24tweeted [ko]:

공정방송 회복을 위한 MBC 파업, 앵커들도 가세. 김재철 사장에게 묻습니다. 공영방송 MBC가 당신의 개인기업입니까? 권력의 소유물입니까? 사장에서 물러나라는 구성원 절대다수의 요구가 당신의 개인재산을 내놓으라는 것입니까? 대답할 수 있습니까?

MBC went on strike to restore fairness in broadcast, and anchors have joined the movement as well. I ask this to MBC president Kim Jae-chul: Is the public broadcaster MBC your personal company? Is it the property of powerful people? A vast majority of people are calling for you to resign – do you perceive this as a demand to relinquish your personal property? How would you answer my questions?

@imdramafan tweeted [ko]:

해품달이 파업 때문에 후반작업에 어려움을 겪고 있다고 한다. 무도는 이번주에도 결방이라고 한다. 마음대로 마이크잡고 펜잡고 카메라 잡기 힘든 세상이 되어버렸다. 굴하지마세요! 화이팅 #무도

HaePonDal [note: Korean acronym for a popular soap opera] hit a snag at the end of the production schedule due to the strike. Mudo [note: acronym for much-loved comedy show, Infinite Challenge] is on hiatus this week too. The world has become a place where people cannot freely use their microphones, pens and cameras. Please don't surrender! Cheers, #Mudo.

When asked in an interview whether he would ever consider stepping down as a way of taking responsibility for the fiasco, Kim Jae-chul responded [ko] that he will not resign until he is, “laid in a coffin.”

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