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Government interference at TV station leads to firings, suspensions of employees

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 13 October 2008 IFJ media release:

IFJ Says Korean Government Must End Interference at Broadcaster YTN

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today strongly condemned the latest efforts by the Korean government to control YTN, a 24-hour television channel, in a move that has led to the firing of journalist union activists protesting the changes.

For almost 90 days journalists have taken over the office of the newly appointed president of YTN, Gu Bon-hong, who they believe was installed to give the government control over the news channel. The dispute has led to the firing of 6 staff members while others have been suspended and disciplined. The president is working from an office nearby due to the deadlock in the talks between management and staff.

The IFJ is supporting its local affiliate, the Journalists' Association of Korea (JAK), in the fight for editorial independence, said IFJ President Jim Boumelha, who was in Seoul from October 6 to 9 to show his support for JAK and YTN's struggle against government pressure on the media.

"It is shocking that YTN management took such a spiteful and vindictive action against workers, including the leaders of the labour union," Boumelha said. "The IFJ calls on Gu Bon-hong to rescind immediately the suspensions and warnings and reinstate forthwith the sacked union activists. These brave members are taking up a heroic fight to defend press freedom and editorial democracy."

Boumelha led a delegation of 40 Asian journalists during his stay in Seoul in a visit to YTN to show their solidarity with journalists there. Boumelha offered to meet with Gu or to mediate the dispute and said the IFJ would consider a mission to Korea to investigate the firings of the six union workers if the JAK requests it.

"They have risked their careers by resisting political interference in the business of journalism," Boumelha said of the union activists, "and all Korean journalists, and indeed journalists worldwide, must applaud the action they have taken. We are throwing all the weight of IFJ affiliates behind them until they got reinstated and win their fight."

According to the JAK, the government of Lee Myung Bak, is trying to manipulate media to suit its political tastes by appointing to state-run broadcasting and some key public enterprises executives who are his supporters.

Although JAK and other civic groups have continuously denounced this dictatorial behaviour over media policy, there have been no improvements.

Once again IFJ urges the Korean government to withdraw the disciplinary action against YTN.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

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