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KBS journalists strike to force their boss out

Blue House said to pressure station on its Sewol rescue coverage

May 21,2014
Journalists at the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) yesterday announced they would boycott reporting news until the broadcaster’s president resigns, following the bombshell revelation that the state-run broadcaster was pressured by the Blue House to tone down its coverage of the Sewol ferry disaster.

Reporters, editors and anchors who are members of the labor union yesterday demanded KBS President Gil Hwan-young step down for allegedly pressuring them to be less critical of the government’s handling of the sinking that claimed more than 300 lives so far, apparently under the direction of the Blue House.

“The revelation by a former chief editor showed the fact that KBS was manufacturing news reports following directions from the Blue House,” Ryu Seong-ho, a member of the KBS Gwangju and South Jeolla reporters’ association, said at a rally in front of KBS headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul.

The boycott, launched by the KBS reporters’ association at 1 p.m. Monday, spread to other workers’ associations in the company, which has thousands of workers nationwide, including camera crews and producers.

So far, 99 high-level employees, including senior editors and administrators, have said they will resign to protest the alleged interference by Gil and the Blue House.

KBS union members said they scheduled a vote soon to decide whether to start a general strike next week.

A violent scuffle occurred between union members and management Monday morning when Gil was entering KBS headquarters. Unionists surrounded his sedan to block him from entering the building. The president wasn’t able to get into the building.

The broadcaster’s main program, KBS News 9, was truncated Monday and yesterday due to the protests by journalists.

On Monday, the show went on with a single female anchor (her male partner boycotted the show) and she finished the one-hour program in 20 minutes. Kim Si-gon, former chief editor of KBS, revealed on Friday at an official meeting of the reporters’ association that Gil intervened in the news coverage four times between May 1 and 8, particularly over the government’s poor handling of the sinking.

At a meeting on May 5, according to Kim, Gil allegedly told editors and reporters, “Don’t criticize the Coast Guard,” as public criticism was mounting over the botched rescue operation in which only 172 out of 476 passengers were saved.

On May 3, when opposition leader Ahn Cheol-soo publicly criticized President Park Geun-hye for the sinking and asked her “to bitterly regret” the disaster, the KBS head allegedly told editors not to run ticker headlines about his remarks.

Kim stepped down as chief editor of the KBS newsroom on May 9 after the families of the Sewol victims criticized the comments he made to colleagues. At the end of April, Kim allegedly told colleagues at a dinner, “The Sewol accident may look like it took a huge number of casualties because 300 people died at once. But the number is not that high considering the number of people killed in car accidents annually.”

Kim apologized for his comment and said that the KBS president pressured him to quit.

“Gil told me, ‘There was a phone call from the BH [Blue House]’ and he ordered me to quit,” Kim said at a press meeting on May 9 when he announced his resignation. “Gil said, ‘If you leave your job for three months, I will give you another one. If you resist this order [from the Blue House], I will not be able to survive, either.’”

The KBS president allegedly cried at that meeting, Kim said, saying, “All of this is the will of the president.”

Kim also claimed that Gil ordered editors “to report all the news about President [Park] within the first 20 minutes of the News 9 program.”

The KBS president denied all allegations by Kim.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]






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