Kim In-gyu, new nominee for KBS president, is under fire for his ties to President Lee Myung-bak.
By Park Si-soo
The nomination of Kim In-gyu as president of the state-run nationwide television and radio broadcaster KBS is triggering strong criticism within and outside the company. Kim was a close aide to President Lee Myung-bak before and during his presidential campaign.
The KBS labor union and opposition parties immediately lashed out at the decision, calling his nomination a ``conspiracy'' concocted by the government to secure a tighter grip on major media outlets.
Unionized KBS workers are considering staging a general strike from as early as next Monday, if the decision is not reversed.
``This decision proves that the KBS board of directors is no more than just a rubber stamp of the administration,'' the union said in a statement. ``With the energy we can muster, we will make it impossible for Kim to step into our building.''
The main opposition Democratic Party also urged KBS to withdraw the decision.
The DP wasn't the only party to oppose the move. Woo Wi-young, spokesperson for the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party said, ``This is a state-backed crime to steal the control tower of the nation's most influential media outlet.''
The 59-year-old former director of KBS, who is now the chairman of the Korea Digital Media Industry Association, is known as a vocal advocate of President Lee. He played a key role during the conservative president's election campaign in 2007.
Despite the protests, however, many observers say Kim's appointment to the position by Cheong Wa Dae is a foregone conclusion.
In fact, his takeover of the job had been predicted since Sohn Byung-doo, former president of Sogang University, was picked in September as the chairman of the KBS board of directors, which holds the right to nominate the CEO. Sohn was a candidate to be named prime minister.
Kim's is the latest in a series of controversial nominations of pro-government figures to head domestic TV stations.
The first controversy broke out in July when Koo Bon-hong, one of the chief strategists for the Lee Myung-bak camp during the presidential campaign, received approval to become the head of 24-hour cable news network YTN at a shareholders' meeting, despite fierce opposition from the network's union, which claimed the move would give the government greater control of the news channel.
In early August, Koo unexpectedly offered to resign, but insiders say many of its high-ranking positions have already been occupied by those friendly to the administration.
MBC, the second-largest nationwide TV station and the vanguard of anti-government reporting, recently found part of its board had been replaced with pro-government figures.
Among the broadcasters currently headed by President Lee's aides are Sky Life, a digital satellite TV service provider; Arirang TV, an English-language TV network based in Seoul; and the Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation.
Experts cite the months-long nationwide protests last year against the government's decision to resume imports of U.S. beef as a key motivating factor for it to go to great lengths to take control of TV stations, particularly nationwide networks such as KBS and MBC.
At the time of the protests, some scientists spoke out about the exaggerated fears of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). But progressive media outlets such as MBC, the Hankyoreh Daily and Kyunghyang Daily churned out reports that highlighted the risk of U.S. beef, pulling down President Lee's approval rating to nearly single digits, and forcing him to reshuffle his Cabinet.