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Media workers strike for freedom of speech

Korean journalist unions say media executives censor the news

MBC union members stage a sit-in protest earlier this month MBC union members stage a sit-in protest earlier this month
  • Korea
  • May 10, 2012
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While much of South Korea was celebrating Parents’ Day on May 8, one man was taking on the painful task of calling his mother to tell her he had lost his job.

Reporter Lee Yong-ma was one of seven workers dismissed by the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, for refusing to end a strike that began on January 30. Another 103 have received  “severe” reprimands.

It would appear that Lee was among those singled out for dismissal because he also handles public relations for the MBC trade union. But despite his sacking, his lack of pay since January and his mother’s concern, he is determined to fight on.

“I am fighting for freedom of speech,” he said. “Winning the fight is the only way I can repay my parents.”

The 700 media workers who walked out at MBC were followed by another 1,000 who went on strike at state-owned KBS, the country’s largest broadcaster, on March 6.

Over the next 10 days, they were joined by workers from the YTN cable news service and the Yonhap News Agency.

The unions are calling for the resignation of senior executives, whom they accuse of censoring any coverage that is critical of President Lee Myung-bak.

They have also raised the suspicion that MBC president Kim Jae-cheol has misappropriated company funds. Kim denies the allegation strongly but Chung Young-ha, the MBC union leader, said: “We will root out the truth through diligent reporting.”

The strike action escalated on May 7, when union members erected 80 tents and started a sit-in protest in a park near the MBC and KBS offices in Seoul.

The Catholic Priests' Association For Justice showed its support by holding a Mass at the protest site.

Association spokesman Father Simon Chun Jong-hun said: “We must rebuild justice. We cannot stop fighting for freedom of speech and independence for broadcasters.”

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