[Viewpoint]What happened to YTN?
Allow me to exaggerate a bit - I watch the cable news channel YTN almost every day, for the whole day. In fact, I am addicted to news and feel uneasy when I am not watching it. The addiction might be one of journalism’s occupational hazards. Among the many programs on YTN, I especially like “Accidental Video.” It captures comic and absurd moments for certain people or situations, and I cannot help laughing. Sometimes, the video focuses on something trivial and cleverly if tangentially, attacks the conservatives. However, I still find the segment amusing. After all, one of the important functions of media is checking the powerful and siding with the weak.
Moreover, there are many reporters at YTN, both my juniors and seniors, with whom I have worked for a long time. In short, my feeling towards YTN is a combination of affection as a news addict and connection as someone working in the same field of news reporting. Therefore, I plucked up my courage to speak up about the labor dispute at YTN that has been going on for over four months now.
I first want to make clear one thing: I have no intention to defend President Gu Bon-hong, with whom I am not acquainted. Frankly, I find the appointment of Gu to head YTN inappropriate because he had been Lee Myung-bak’s presidential campaign media adviser. I agree with the YTN union members on that much. However, as someone who has observed YTN’s history since it started broadcasting in 1995, I feel that denouncing Gu as a parachute appointment is a stretch, for the following reasons.
First, YTN is a semi-public corporation, and Gu’s is not the first parachute appointment to lead the cable channel. In fact, all the past presidents of YTN had connections with the Blue House. Mr. J was the president of YTN during the Kim Young-sam administration, and another Mr. J headed the news channel during the Kim Dae-jung administration. They both were widely known to have a personal relationship with the incumbent president, which affected their appointments. Moreover, their fates were affected by power games, and Mr. J was replaced by Mr. P during the Kim Dae-jung administration because of a change in power dynamics. Whenever the administration changed, the head of YTN has been replaced without fail. When Roh Moo-hyun took office, Mr. P resigned before completing his term, and another Mr. P, who had spent time in prison with some of the most powerful men in the new administration, was appointed to the post. Therefore, it is quite strange that the union members cannot accept Gu because he is a parachute appointee. I want to ask the union how come they embraced so many parachute presidents in the past.
Second, YTN became a semi-public corporation because YTN reporters wanted it to be one. When YTN’s capital became impaired, YTN reporters stood up to save the company. Reporters accredited to the Blue House and the National Assembly appealed to save YTN. And so the Korea Electric Power Data Network, a subsidiary of state-run Kepco, became YTN’s major stakeholder. And KT&G became the second-biggest stakeholder.
YTN was revived in the process. At the time of the financial crisis in 1997, many reporters lost jobs in other media companies. However, as a semi-public corporation, YTN did not have to fire anyone. So a question arises: Do the YTN union members want to only enjoy the benefits of having ties to the government yet refuse any intervention?
Third, the union’s claim is hardly convincing logically. Seven people applied for the job of YTN president in April. The nomination committee picked four candidates, and Gu Bon-hong received the highest points among them. The committee then recommended Gu to the board of directors. The union leader was a member of the nomination committee and he signed all the papers. So it is hard to understand why the union now wants to reverse the decision.
I have one guess. The appointment was made at the peak of candlelight vigils and when President Lee Myung-bak’s popularity was at the bottom. The social atmosphere might have affected the union.
These days, juniors and seniors in the YTN newsroom are not very friendly to one another. A notice was posted urging juniors not to eat with their seniors, not to talk on the phone with them and not to say hi to them. And some juniors went up to their seniors and condemned them for “serving the Lee Myung-bak administration.” Probably because I have worked for a newspaper for a long time and have now become a senior, I feel heavy-hearted when I heard such stories. YTN has had its share of twists and turns, but compared to other networks, it is considered to be less affected by politics. While its presidents were parachute appointees, YTN’s news reporting went to great pains to maintain neutrality. How did the most apolitical media outlet become the most combative and political one in the Lee Myung-bak administration? I do not know what happened.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk