While Politics Swings Left, MBC Reporters Feel Pushed Further Right

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One of South Korea’s biggest public broadcasters, MBC, is being criticized by its own reporters for biased reporting on the Moon administration.

Last week, on Aug. 7, the economics desk at MBC News released a statement about reporting practices and hierarchical structures within the outlet. It claimed that since the Moon administration took office in May, higher-ups within MBC had ordered economics reporters to write one-sided stories. Specific orders cited by the statement included, “Imitate the front page of Munhwa Ilbo [a conservative daily],” and, “write against the minimum wage increase.”

“Fairness and impartiality are the basics of the basics, but economic issues call for an even greater level of rigor,” the statement, signed by 15 journalists, read. “Journalism is rooted in true reasoning and honest conversation, and as such, a group of people demanding biased articles has no right to hold editing power.”

According to the statement, MBC executives, including MBC president Kim Jang-gyeom, specifically demanded stories that opposed government policies, including abandoning nuclear power and increasing the minimum wage. But what was “even more devastating” than their politically-tilted demands, reporters said, was the reporting process and the motivations that fueled it — a deliberate lack of insight and fact-based reporting.

The journalists criticized MBC heads as obsessed with maintaining their positions and gaining political benefit. The statement demanded the resignation of three named executives and editors.

“We will reject all demands for unjust reporting and carefully record and disclose all details regarding  our contracts,” the statement said. “And we call upon other news organizations’ reporters to join us in a conversation about the state of news, which is quickly heading toward its downfall.”

At the time of publication, MBC was unavailable for comment on this statement. 

This is not the first time its own journalists have felt pressed to publicly condemn MBC’s journalistic standards.

In January, three young MBC reporters posted a video regarding the company’s coverage of the candlelight protests, which called for former president Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in the midst of the Choi Soon-sil scandal: “What happened to MBC?” they said in the video. “The MBC that would stand on the frontlines to call out government policies, the MBC that we young reporters and viewers knew and loved?”

This video incited hundreds of older MBC reporters to voice their support for the three reporters who made it, and were subsequently punished by the company.

Meanwhile, a day after MBC reporters released their statement against the company, the existence of a “reporter blacklist” was revealed during a press conference held by the National Union of Media Workers’ MBC branch: This list was compiled in 2013 and has been continually updated, the union said. It includes a “cameraman analysis report” of MBC cameramen — separated into four levels of company loyalty, from “loyal to company policy” all the way to “supported the previous strike [by MBC journalists in 2012] and hopes for collapse of the current system.”

The blacklist is accompanied by a document titled “Tendencies of blacklisted reporters” covering 65 cameramen who were working at MBC in 2013. The union reported that those rated positively in this document had continued to advance and currently held higher positions, while those rated poorly had been pushed out of the company or were working in lower ranks.

There is always bound to be an angry party in politics. But as long as journalism and the government stay so inextricably tied, they continue to swing as one pendulum. Regardless of which way power swings, the lines remain blurred for South Korean journalists — who, instead of serving as a lens into politics, have no choice but to wage war against their own.

 

Cover image: MBC reporters recently accused their own executives of censorship and political bias. (Source: Bill Kerr)

Yvonne is a former intern at Korea Exposé hailing from southern California. She is currently studying journalism and English at Northwestern University.