Controlling the airwaves

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Controlling the airwaves

The board of directors of KBS, a public broadcasting company in Korea, approved Monday a motion to dismiss its president, Ko Dae-young. If President Moon Jae-in signs it, Ko will be removed from office immediately. That would complete the liberal administration’s replacing of the heads of the government-run broadcaster and MBC, another public broadcasting company, just eight months after it came to power.

The motion to discharge Ko from office passed the board with a vote of six out of 11 directors. Those six directors were appointed by the ruling Democratic Party. The remaining five appointed by opposition parties walked out of the meeting or abstained from voting to protest the ousting. Lee In-ho, who became chair of the KBS board during the conservative Park Geun-hye administration, expressed concerns about the politically engineered replacement. In emails, she wrote, “Following MBC, KBS also has become the stage for the radical National Union of Mediaworkers to play its power game.”

KBS’s union, which has been on strike for months to show its disapproval of President Ko, welcomed the board’s decision and declared workers would return to their jobs. Members of the KBS union have frequently staged rallies in front of workplaces of board members who were appointed by past administrations in order to force them to step down. Their brazen acts reflect the sad reality that our public broadcasters are controlled by their unions.

The appointment of a new KBS president comes next. Our broadcast law stipulates that a new KBS president should be recommended by board members and go through a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly. But opposition parties are attacking the government for trying to rein in the public broadcaster for political purposes.

The replacement of the heads of state-run broadcasters is nothing new. Surh Dong-koo — a special adviser to then-presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun in the 2002 election — had to resign as president of KBS only a month after taking office due to controversies over so-called “parachute appointments.” When it was an opposition party, the ruling Democratic Party proposed a bill to prevent such a bad practice. Ironically, opposition parties are considering proposing the bill once again.

Why can’t our election victors end such dodgy appointments, which shake the very foundations of our democracy? The government’s campaign to root out past ills should start with this one.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 24, Page 30
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