Korean Government Must Speak Out for Media Freedom to Break Television Deadlock Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which has concluded an emergency mission to Korea, says the government in Seoul must act urgently over fears for the future of press freedom in the country.

The call is among a number of IFJ proposals to end the deadlock between staff and management in a 154-day battle over editorial independence at the broadcaster YTN, a 24-hour news network. The IFJ says sacked workers must be reinstated and a joint agreement to guarantee editorial independence must also be put in place.

he station has been in crisis since staff blocked company President Mr Bon Hong Gu from entering the premises claiming his appointment earlier this year is a political fix in support of the government of President Myung-Bak Lee for whom he worked during the election campaign earlier this year.

“This dispute is rooted in a genuine fear that government is out to clip the wings of the country’s independent and critical media,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary who led the mission with IFJ Asia-Pacific leader Michael Yu from Taiwan. “Plans for new laws to curb Internet freedom and to open up the media market to the government’s business allies while leading to concentration of media ownership add to these fears.”

The IFJ says that the government must publicly guarantee editorial independence at YTN where 60 per cent of the shares are held by state companies. “Many journalists are convinced the government is working behind the scenes to compromise independent journalism,” said White. The station’s popular show dealing with political satire is currently off the air.

The IFJ mission concluded on Wednesday with a number of proposals designed to encourage fresh negotiations to solve the YTN dispute. After meetings with management and union leaders the IFJ says both sides are ready for unconditional talks to end the confrontation which has led to street demonstrations and on-air protests. Six staff have been sacked and a further 27 disciplined.

The IFJ says that the dispute over the appointment of the new president should be dealt with after both sides have rebuilt confidence in the station’s independence by establishing structures to protect its journalism. The IFJ says all the sacked journalists should be re-employed and disciplinary actions against others lifted. The IFJ also suggested that both sides agree to a three-month “cooling off period,” suspend all hostile actions and consider jointly appointing an agreed committee of advisers to monitor the progress of any agreement.

“These arrangements could then allow for a considered discussion on the reappointment of the President either through a local vote or a review of the original appointment by shareholders,” said White. “What is important is that YTN is put back on track and its role as an independent broadcaster is secured.”

A review of the station’s three-year licence has been postponed by the government’s broadcasting commission, which has set a deadline of February 2009 for a decision to be taken on the renewal of its licence, hinting that the station faces closure.

“Time is running out,” said White, “and all sides should play their part in finding a satisfactory solution. The government, in particular, must demonstrate its commitment to the future of independent media in Korea.”

For further information contact the IFJ: +32 478 258 669
 The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in more than 123 countries