Korea ranks below Botswana in press freedom
More than one month has passed since MBC reporters went on strike. KBS reporters also plan to go on strike on March 6. They are demanding the resignation of their presidents. No immediate solution is within reach as the unionized journalists press for freedom of the media.
Three of six main MBC news programs were suspended as 90 percent of the reporters boycott. Even the other programs go on air on a reduced scale. Unless their strike ends before the general elections on April 11, live coverage of balloting is unlikely.
The unionists rejected an ultimatum to return to work or face disciplinary actions. They vowed to fight until its President Kim Jae-chul who they argue meddled in fair reporting, quits. Kim dismissed the call and took legal action against the strikers.
The unionists denigrate Kim for being a sycophant to the Lee Myung-bak administration as Lee hand-picked Kim.
The MBC reporters got angry over the deletion or sizing-down of reports on anti-FTA rallies and suspicion over President Lee’s retirement home in Seoul.
The sentiment is similar at the nation’s largest broadcaster KBS. They press for President Kim In-kyu’s resignation.
They contend that the government-picked CEO cannot guarantee fair news reporting, vowing to protect KBS from pro-government and pro-Lee coverage.
This is the first time that two broadcasting stations face sit-in protest simultaneously. A protracted similar strike paralyzed the cable news channel YTN in 2009. It will vote today to decide whether to prevent its President Bae Suk-kyu from serving a second-term.
Some reporters of the state-subsidized wire service Yonhap also opposed re-nominating its CEO.
The government installed President Lee’s cronies at the four media outlets now in labor tension. Unions of the four outlets plan to ally with civic groups for their struggle.
The Lee administration had sown seeds of the current media paralysis. For the first time since the pro-democracy struggle took place in 1987, a simultaneous union struggle is under way. At the start of the Lee administration, his cronies took over them.
This is one of the reasons why the U.S. Freedom House rated Korea partly free in press freedom, an ignominious scoreboard for the world’s 15th largest economy and the host of the G-20 Summit.
Democracy in Korea has matured to the point of no return. The government’s meddling was a step in the wrong direction. President Lee did not need to control the broadcasters as he won the election by an unprecedented margin of 6 million votes.
Korea is the 44th in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, below South Africa and Botswana. It was at 39th in 2007, months before the launch of the Lee administration. Although the index is questionable in objectivity, the ranking is a reference in gauging the media climate worldwide.
Like democracy, press freedom is irreversible. Any leader trying to gag the press will backfire. Even an indication of media control also tarnishes national image.