On July 8, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, “In the past decade, public broadcasting in particular has collapsed miserably. Restoring freedom of speech and public freedom of broadcasting is one of the most important tasks.” During prior administrations, the public broadcasting company MBC had failed to keep their independence; they served the government, not the people. As a result, they have lost the trust of the people. Yet, there are those who persist in trying to bring MBC back to the people ? this time it is 92 percent of all the MBC workers. To prevent any administration from taking its independence away again, MBC has risen again to fight for their freedom. The Argus visited the scene of a strike that embodied MBC workers’ anger over containment and demand for change.
The strike started out in anger over the previous government’s intent to seize the broadcasting company. MBC workers are demanding the resignation of President Kim Jang-gyum, who has been actively involved in taking over the broadcasting giant alongside past administrations, and ordered unfair treatment for those who fought against him.
The latest revelation of blacklisting greatly kindled anger towards Kim Jang-gyum. A “blacklist” refers to journalists who fell short of the criteria that Kim set up. Usually, these journalists were the ones opposed to government control of MBC. Most of the classified journalists categorized as ‘x’ were placed outside the reporting bureau in 2012 or were placed in a low-staffed department in the reporting office of MBC. Also, they were excluded from promotion.
Upon arrival, there were not any signs of a strike in front of MBC. It was quieter than expected. The lobby wall showed banners of yellow paper organized by the members of the strike, which read “MBC ? on its way back to the citizens.” At the same time, there were several reporters and photographers who were silently checking their computers and cameras. At the rear of the lobby, members of the strike were busy working and checking the speakers.
Thirty minutes later, the flow of people increased. First floor elevators were busy going up and down carrying MBC members down to lobby. Members of the union sat down with disposable cushions that were placed underneath them. Cameramen settled in place and reporters gathered around the projector located at the center.
The moderator of the event signaled the start of the strike. All the members stood up for the song ‘March of the Beloved’ with the grand sound echoing throughout the entire lobby. It transformed the initially chaotic tone into a serious one. Following introductions, the director of the Public Relations Bureau and an attorney announced the alleged crimes of Chairman Kim Jang-gyum. The Public Relations director started off by saying Kim’s arrest warrant had been issued on Friday, adding, “I am angered about Kim Jang-gyum’s cowardice and victimization of himself.” As he spoke, his voice rose, and the assembled members agreed quietly.
Lawyer Shin Yun-soo came to say why Kim Jang-gyum’s conviction should occur. He went on to say that the blacklist penalties imposed by Kim were definite proof of Kim’s guilt. After the talk, the MC reaffirmed the union that the strike is a legal strike and a final fight.
At 10:30 a.m., members of the union shared the unfair treatment they received along with words of positive energy to other members of the union. “Let’s strike merrily, rebuild MBC merrily. This fight is meant to be won,” they chanted loudly, after the talk.
On the same day, a documentary created by one of the Producers was also shown. It was the footage of how the public broadcasting company MBC had collapsed up until now. It sent out a message that the fighting spirit for independence has always been there, even from the most senior employees. After the documentary, everyone chanted again, “Kick out Kim Jang-gyum, make MBC a fair show!”
It was now clear that the union members were more optimistic and less reserved and serious. With the advent of MBC’s “Love for Music” the mood brightened up, and laughter burst out from the crowd.
They sang, “MBC Freedom” a parody of “Itaewon Freedom,” along with cute dance routines. Although the song was not sung well, the group’s leader asked for understanding telling us to please listen with the love of brotherhood. His line made the mood even brighter. When the attendees followed the dance, there were more smiles seen than before. Later, senior members of MBC went out and danced along with the group. After the singing and dancing, senior managers who now dismissed for leading the strike in 2012 came to share their firm beliefs on winning a fair and clean MBC for the citizens this year.
The MC wrapped up the morning strike saying that protest not only performs as a fight against Kim, but hopefully also be served as a place for union members to meet a variety of people and talk about a positive outlook for MBC.
Many people began to gather at the MBC Plaza, including those from other broadcasting companies and MBC union members from all regions. Red flags brought by the union members waved gently. Banners telling Kim to leave were also visible in the crowd. The afternoon event progressed in a similar manner to that in the morning.
A total of 2,000 members from all over the country gathered. As more people gathered in the wake of the final fight, the union was poised to strengthen its confidence and gain their final victory. Perhaps it was from their confidence that the scene was erupted mainly in laughter rather than suspense.
The head of the SBS headquarters and the head of the Kyunghyang papers presented strong words of encouragement for the fight. They shared their complaints over the past government’s effort to control the press and said they would extend their efforts to help the strike.
“This fight is a battle to live like humans again,” the head of the SBS headquarters raised his voice to the strike.
After their speech, the group “Love for Music” reappeared and sang a parody of DdangBeol, Jang-gyum, singing, “I am tired of Jang-gyum, Jang-gyum!” which drew much laughter from the crowd.
MBC branch chiefs from all around the region shared their opinions about the strike, with one chief from the Jeonju region, proclaiming “We have never been defeated because we have never given up.”
Two reporters, who had been forced to leave unfairly, visited the union and cheered for the union members. One reporter said, “I dreamt of wearing a suit and coming back to MBC. So I asked to my juniors whether I should buy suits. They assured me I should get ready to come back this autumn with a nice suit.”
After the speech, a final parody film of “Accomplices” and “Strikers” was shown where one PD mimicked the reporter in the film. At the strike’s end, a final chant echoed throughout the MBC plaza: “Kim Jang-gyum step back! Step back”
This strike, an extension of the 2012 strike, highlights MBC’s struggle to return to the public’s arms. Reporters, news anchors and PDs are direly asking Kim to step down. How long will the fight to regain MBC’s fairness and independence take? How long will it take for MBC to come back to television? Will 2017 be the last strike?
Reporter of National Section