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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.

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