South Korea: Mass Firing of TV Writers from Investigative Program

Although an unprecedentedly long strike by workers from South Korea's largest TV network, MBC, officially ended in mid-July 2012, complaints and anger has yet again resurfaced. The network's infamous leadership has recently fired every single writer [ko] from its signature investigative program, which openly criticizes the current government.

Around 100 broadcast workers rallied against the layoffs on July 30, and 780 fellow television writers from across various stations and shows have signed a petition denouncing the decision and calling for fair journalism free of political motivation.

Strike background

The action started when over 300 producers and journalists at public broadcaster MBC walked out against its leadership's censorship and pressure in publishing certain news contents. The strike continued for 170 days and many shows went on a hiatus as a result.

Amongst the hardest hit was the company's most prestigious investigative program, PD Notebook (PD stands for the producer). The program has been the center of a controversy due to airing many exclusive stories on topics such as the current administration's censorship of citizen, widespread fraud cases involving the Prosecutor's Offices and irrevocable environmental damage caused by the Four Rivers Project (which the government hemorrhaged tremendous amount of taxpayer's money into).

In 2008, the PD Notebook sparked mass rallies against United States beef imports, by airing tremendously influential coverage on the politics and health hazards related to US beef. Its producers and journalists came under fire and faced numerous lawsuits, but earlier this year the courts finally dropped the charges against them.

Since its writers were fired, many speculated that the layoffs were politically motivated. The company's infamous President Kim Jae-chul, has been accused of siding with the country's ruling party and president. MBC union released a statement that read [ko]:

자랑스러워야 할 자사 프로그램에 이토록 난도질을 가하는 자해공갈의 모습에서는 이제 측은함마저 느낀다. 김재철 사장을 살리기 위한 피비린내가 도대체 어디까지 진동하기를 원하는 것인가? 프리랜서로서 회사 내에서 고용의 형태가 가장 취약한 방송구성작가를 겨냥했다는 점에서 MBC 사측의 행태는 더욱 고약하기 짝이 없다.

It is so pitiful to watch the leadership's self-harm. So they decided to butcher up their own program which they should be proud of. How much more blood needs to be shed to salvage the company President Kim Jae-chul? This decision is a new low even for them since it is targeting TV writers, the most vulnerable group in the [broadcasting] company employment system.

Union response

Many took the layoffs without solid reasons as an insult [ko] to television writers and their union gathered 778 signatures from fellow writers within four days of the news. More are joining the MBC writers’ cause, and even comedy and soap opera writers have actively started showing moral support.

Lim Kyung-hwa, a talk show writer for SBS – another major network TV station – wrote [ko]:

어렸던 제게 세상을 바로 볼 수 있도록 해줬던 < PD수첩 >을 수년간 이끌어 오신 정재홍 작가님 외 < PD수첩 > 작가님들의 전원 복귀를 응원합니다. 또한, 작가들의 명예와 양심마저 짓밟아 버린 MBC가!!! 더이상!!! 망가지지 않기를 바랍니다.

I really hope every writer from PD Notebook gets their old jobs back, especially Chung Jae-hong who taught me the right world view when I was a little kid [meaning that she has been greatly influenced by the writer]. I sincerely wish MBC would stop making fun of themselves by clamping down on these writers’ pride and conscience – not any more.

When firing the writers, the leadership also shut down another investigative program focusing on protecting consumers’ rights against giant corporations. The reason for the company's overhaul, the leadership claims, was for the purposes of innovation. @saveourmbc begs differ and tweeted [ko] with the photo below:

MBC사거리에 걸린 현수막을 보니 참담합니다. 기자, 피디도 모자라 작가까지 말살하고 누굴 위한 쇄신을 할건지….

It's heartbreaking to watch this banner hung over the intersection in front of the MBC building [the banner reads “Revoke the layoffs of PD Notebook's writers, immediately!”]. What kind of innovation can they possibly achieve after killing off the show's producers, journalists and now even the writers?
Image of the banner. Twit Pic by @saveourmbc, used with permission.

Image of the banner. Twit Pic by @saveourmbc, used with permission.

And added another message [ko], after commenting on a famous comedian/talk show personality's tweet about the layoff:

PD수첩 작가, 막내까지 14명 몽땅 해고. RT @kimmiwha: 방송프로그램을 만들때.. 참 열악한 환경에서 묵묵히 일하는게 작가들 입니다. 최 하위에 있는 힘없는 사람들을 이유도 없이 무더기로 자르신…

Every PD Notebook writer, even the youngest, in total 14 people, were fired. RT @kimmiwha: When we make a TV show, it is none other than those writers who work so hard behind the scenes in such an hostile environment. But the leadership laid off the most vulnerable people who are at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.

@saveourmbc then explained [ko] about the other show which was forced to shut down:

김철진 교양제작국장. 불만제로 폐지하고 블랙박스로 대체 하겠다고 밝혀. PD수첩에 이어 대표적 비판 프로그램을 손본답니다. 소비자 입장에서 성역없이 문제를 제기해 온 프로그램을 특별한 이유없이 폐지한다는 건 어불성설입니다.

Kim Chul-jin, the head of the company's News and Documentary Production Division, has decided to shut down ‘Complaint Zero’ and replace it with ‘Black Box’. He wants to butcher up another signature investigative program as they have already done with PD Notebook. It is ridiculous to shut down the program which has contributed so much in defending the consumers’ rights for no apparent reasons.

And later showed this photo of one of the company's brand new security cameras:

Image of new security camera. Twit pic by @saveourmbc, used with permission.

Image of new security camera. Twit pic by @saveourmbc, used with permission.

사측이 기자들과 PD들을 감시하기 위한 초고화질 HD CCTV 를 설치 했습니다. 제작비는 깎고, 감시용 CCTV는 비싼걸로, 자기네 보너스는 늘리고, 회사 비판하면 다 자르겠다네요.

The leadership has newly installed this extremely high quality, high-definition security camera to monitor their producers and journalists’ movements. They slashed down production costs, but upgraded their security cameras. They gave themselves a bonus increase, while threatening us that we will be fired when caught criticizing the company.

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