Document shows plan for ‘takeover’ of KBS by installing right-wing figures, undermining union

Posted on : 2024-04-02 16:58 KST Modified on : 2024-04-02 17:29 KST
The public broadcaster’s union said it would investigate and seek legal recourse regarding an 18-page document detailing plans including abandoning the collective agreement between the company and its union
Highlights from a document titled “A Crisis is an Opportunity” concerning broadcaster KBS, reported on by MBC’s “Straight.” The highlighted portions read: “preparation of a sincere statement (apology) to the public for the loss of its trust”; “taking control of the organization through executive and managerial appointments”; and “declaration of downsizing and staff cuts.” (still from @MBC-straight on YouTube)
Highlights from a document titled “A Crisis is an Opportunity” concerning broadcaster KBS, reported on by MBC’s “Straight.” The highlighted portions read: “preparation of a sincere statement (apology) to the public for the loss of its trust”; “taking control of the organization through executive and managerial appointments”; and “declaration of downsizing and staff cuts.” (still from @MBC-straight on YouTube)

Controversy is erupting over the disclosure of an internal document outlining a plan for the “normalization” of the KBS network, including the abandonment of a collective agreement and deliberate hiring of right-wing figures.

While it remains unknown who drafted the document or the chain of command it was reported to, the KBS chapter of the National Union of Media Workers (NUMW) signaled that it intends to pursue an investigation and legal response.

“Judging from the things that have transpired since Park Min became president of KBS, there are considerable grounds for concluding that the document’s items were indeed implemented,” the chapter said.

The first report on the document was on a Sunday episode of the MBC program “Straight.” According to that report and the KBS chapter of the NUMW, the document — entitled “A Crisis is an Opportunity” — is believed to have been written before Oct. 13 of last year, when the KBS board recommended Park as network president.

In a press conference on Monday, the union said it had “verified concrete evidence that certain internal forces colluded on discussions to reduce [the network’s] public broadcasting role and change it for the worse.”

“This is not something that can be dismissed as a mere ‘mystery document,’” it stressed.

The 18-page document listed “normalization of KBS (disruptive innovation)” as a short-term task and “revising the broadcasting structure (mid-flight breakup)” as an intermediate one. Among its sub-items were “ending the ‘union-run broadcasting’ system centering on the [Korean Confederation of Trade Unions-affiliated] NUMW’s KBS chapter” and “privatizing KBS 2 TV.”

Additionally, it cited “taking control of the organization through executive and managerial appointments” as an “issue to be immediately addressed upon taking office as president.” Explicitly, it advised hiring figures who were “mainly right-wing.”

According to the union, this content has gone from a mere plan into actual practice since Park’s arrival as network president. Figures provided by the union showed KBS chapter members accounting for 12% of managerial positions under Park’s regime — roughly one-sixth of the 68% rate recorded under predecessor Kim Eui-chul.

Park Sang-hyun, the NUMW chief for the KBS chapter, flips through the document in question during a press conference held on April 1, 2024, at the KBS Annex in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul. (Kim Young-won/The Hankyoreh)
Park Sang-hyun, the NUMW chief for the KBS chapter, flips through the document in question during a press conference held on April 1, 2024, at the KBS Annex in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul. (Kim Young-won/The Hankyoreh)

The union stressed that the document provided instructions for unfair labor practices.

“Nowhere in the Labor Standards Act, the National Human Rights Commission Act, the Trade Union Act, or the KBS articles of association does it say anything about being able to consider political identification when making official appointments,” it said.

Another one of the “emergency tasks” mentioned for completion after assuming the network presidency was the “preparation of a sincere statement (apology) to the public for the loss of its trust.” This eventually came about in November 2023, with a press statement and apology to the public after Park became network president.

Another time referred to “appointing five positions, including the bureau chief, in accordance with the CEO’s will, and if appointment consent [from the union] is not forthcoming, consideration should be given to disregarding the collective agreement and simply implementing the order.” Indeed, unilateral appointments carried out in January ended up bypassing the union and not seeking its approval.

Chung Myung-ah, a labor attorney who was asked to review the legal ramifications of the document, called the content “shocking.”

“It clearly states that right-wing figures should be appointed in order to cut out the NUMW, and that they should accept the violation or even abandonment of the collective agreement to this end,” she noted.

“The document itself is an unfair labor practice in violation of the Trade Union Act,” she stressed.

Chung also said, “More than half of the document had to do with outsourcing production, cutting staff, and reducing personnel costs.”

“The intention appeared to be to hold the network members’ survival rights hostage to browbeat them into obeying,” she suggested.

NUMW Chairperson Yun Chang-hyun said the document “went a step further than the one in 2010,” referring to a “normalization plan” for MBC and KBS that was drafted and implemented by the National Intelligence Service during the Lee Myung-bak presidency.

“This time, it went beyond simply ‘taking control’ to express its intent to effect an irreversible ‘mid-flight breakup’ of KBS,” he explained, announcing his plan to “hold the document’s author and KBS management to account.”

Highlights from a document titled “A Crisis is an Opportunity” concerning broadcaster KBS, reported on by MBC’s “Straight.” On the left is the 2023 document, with the words “mainly right-wing” highlighted. On the right is a 2010 document, with the words “weeding out of left-leaning figures.” (still from @MBC-straight on YouTube)
Highlights from a document titled “A Crisis is an Opportunity” concerning broadcaster KBS, reported on by MBC’s “Straight.” On the left is the 2023 document, with the words “mainly right-wing” highlighted. On the right is a 2010 document, with the words “weeding out of left-leaning figures.” (still from @MBC-straight on YouTube)

In a position statement, KBS said, “We have no way of knowing the course of the ‘confidential document,’ and it was neither reported to nor shared with KBS management or staff.”

“We are deeply dismayed by MBC’s reporting of baseless content, and we intend to pursue a response, including a request for a correction,” the broadcaster added.

By Park Kang-su, staff reporter

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