New script needed at KBS

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New script needed at KBS

The board of directors at Korea Broadcasting System passed a motion to oust the president, Gil Hwan-young. The union and producers of KBS who had been boycotting production, ended their walkout and returned to work. Journalists, camera crews and producers of the national broadcasting company had been demanding Gil’s resignation, saying he interfered with news coverage of the government’s dismal handling of the Sewol ferry disaster after a phone call from the presidential office. Nomination and dismissal of the KBS head requires approval from President Park Geun-hye, but she is unlikely to veto the board’s decision given the negative public sentiment.

Gil becomes the second KBS president to be dismissed, following Chung Yeon-joo, who was fired in 2009 for mismanagement.

Gil was the target of fiery protests by his employees and the public after former news department chief Kim Si-gon said Gil intervened after orders from the Blue House to tone down critical and unflattering news reports related to the Sewol to mitigate negative publicity for the president. The KBS journalists association and other unions went on a general strike. Gil lost the confidence of his staff and the ability to exercise leadership over the nationwide broadcasting network. He has nowhere to turn, since even board members appointed by the ruling party voted to dismiss him.

KBS is embroiled in internal strife every time the government changes and major controversies dominate the news. The Sewol coverage along with the dismissals of the news chief and president again underscore the company’s vulnerability because of its structural dependence and connection to political forces. The board that names the president consists of seven members picked by the government and ruling party. The remaining four are recommended by the opposition party. The company is headed by a president who, naturally, is favorable toward the governing forces. KBS news and production traditionally side with the ruling party.

The need to revamp ownership and the governance structure of public broadcasters has been raised many times before. President Park also promised reform during her campaign, but no action has been taken. Some scholars recommend tweaking the appointment system by requiring a two-thirds - instead of majority - vote to name the president. Others demand the more radical move of severing ties with political forces. One thing is certain: Ownership and governance structure must be revamped so KBS can truly become a public entity.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 26

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