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Asia-Pacific media unions demand resolution of Korea press freedom crisis

(IFJ/IFEX) - October 1, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), UNI Global Union and their affiliates and associates across Asia-Pacific are gravely concerned for journalists and media workers in South Korea who have been sacked and subjected to punitive disciplinary measures due to their courageous struggle for media independence under the Government of Lee Myung Bak.

Thirty-eight international and Asia-Pacific unions and associates of media, graphical and entertainment workers attending the joint IFJ and UNI Global meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on September 29-30 demanded the Lee Government immediately act to restore press freedom in South Korea and direct broadcasters YTN and Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to reinstate sacked journalists.

Eight journalists – including six from YTN and two from MBC – remain dismissed from their jobs because of their role in advocating for press freedom and independent media at the organisations.

About 160 more journalists have suffered disciplinary sanctions since the Lee Government was inaugurated in 2008. The sanctions include suspensions, pay cuts, warnings and probation orders against workers at YTN, MBC and Korean Broadcasting System (KBS).

Affiliates of the IFJ and UNI called on the Government of South Korea to make a public pledge to respect editorial independence of state-controlled media companies, including YTN, MBC and KBS.

The 51 assembled leaders and representatives of IFJ Asia-Pacific, UNI Global Union, UNI-APRO, UNI-MEI (Media, Entertainment and Arts) and UNI Graphical & Packaging supported a resolution stating, "We demand the Government of South Korea takes immediate action to end repression of journalists and media workers who seek to defend the right to an independent and critical media that serves the public interest.

"Members of our unions and organisations across the region and the world are appalled by the backward steps on press freedom in South Korea since 2008, and will be closely observing the situation at YTN, MBC and KBS."

The six YTN journalists, all members of the house union and the Journalists' Association of Korea (JAK), an IFJ affiliate, were sacked on October 6, 2008 – almost exactly two years ago.

The Seoul District Court ruled in November 2009 that the dismissals were an abuse of management's disciplinary discretion.

The court ordered that YTN house union leader Noh Jong Myeon, reporters Hyun Duk Soo, Jo Seung Ho, Woo Jang Kyun, Jeong Yoo Shin and camera operator Kwon Seok Jae be reinstated and receive full compensation for the period during which they were not permitted to work.

YTN management has refused to comply and is appealing the decision.

In June 2010, MBC sacked two journalists - MBC union leader and producer Lee Keun Heng and Jinju MBC union leader and JAK member Jeong Dae Kyun - on the pretext that they were organizing a strike.

The heart of the problem at these broadcasters is the concerns of journalists and their unions about government controls on state media and their diminished independence due to strong ties between high-ranking government officers and media company management.

Since the Lee Government's inauguration, former presidential aides and advisers have been appointed to senior positions at major state-controlled media companies, despite the objections of journalists seeking to defend the independence of the broadcasters.

Affiliates of the IFJ and UNI demand YTN withdraw its appeal against the November court order and immediately reinstate the six sacked journalists in accordance with the court ruling.

They note with concern that YTN has failed to honour its April 2009 commitments in an agreement between management and the house union that internal mechanisms be established to ensure editorial independence at the broadcaster. The agreement was made on the understanding that the union would end protests against the appointment of Ku as CEO and that YTN would abide by the court decision and reinstate the sacked journalists.

The IFJ and UNI call on YTN's management to end the dispute in accordance with the spirit of the April 2009 agreement, as urged by the IFJ throughout 2009.

The IFJ and UNI further call on MBC's management to guarantee editorial independence and press freedom at the broadcaster, and reinstate the sacked journalist and producer.

The resolution was adopted by the following organisations on 30 September 2010, in Bali:

International Federation of Journalists
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists
Free Media Movement
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)

Non-IFEX member signatories:

UNI Global Union
UNI Media, Entertainment & Arts
UNI Graphical & Packaging
Afghan Independent Journalists' Association
All India Newspaper Employees’ Federation
Asosiasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia
Association of Taiwan Journalists
Bangkok Post LU
Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists
Engineering, Printing, and Manufacturing Union, New Zealand
Federation of Independent Media Workers' Unions, Indonesia
Indian Journalists’ Union
Journalists’ Association of Korea
Maldives Journalists’ Association
Maharashtra Media Employees' Union
National Alliance of Broadcasting Unions, Philippines
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
National Union of Journalists, India
National Union of Journalists, Malaysia
National Union of Media Workers, Korea
National Union of Newspaper Workers, Malaysia
Nepal Press Union
Nepal Television Employees' Association
New Zealand Public Service Association
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists
Shimbun Roren - Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions
Sindicato dos Jornalistas de Timor Leste
Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association
System Television Malaysia Berhad Employees Union - KSKSTMB
Timor Lorosae Journalists’ Association
Union of Public Services, Nepal

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