News Anchor Speaks Out on Media’s Political Neutrality

News anchor Bae Hyun-jin

Unionists from one of Korea’s biggest broadcasters, MBC, have been on an ‘indefinite general strike‘ since January – asking for more neutral journalism as well as the immediate resignation of the top-boss Kim Jae-cheol. Many believe MBC is being used as political tool for the current administration to broadcast, or rather downplay its political agenda. For instance, when the controversy over President Lee’s retirement plot of land broke out, MBC instead chose to cover as top news the surge in popularity of K-pop artists.

MBC News anchor Bae Hyun-jin, the so-called queen newscaster of Korea, has recently been in hot water over her decision to relinquish her support for the striking trade union and to return to her post at the programme ‘Newsdesk.’ Many of those who had been with her throughout the various rallies and strikes were vocal critics, with comments made about her on social-networking sites proliferating both on the internet and in the main-stream news. Below is a long and detailed account given by Bae that was picked up by major news outlets, explaining the reasons behind her controversial decision. The article attracted thousands of netizen comments, a selection of which appear below the translated article.

From Nate:

‘There is violence involved in the trade union of newscasters’ – News anchor Bae Hyun-jin creates a stir

News anchor Bae Hyun-jin says ‘there was violence involved with the strike at MBC’.

Newscaster Bae Hyun-jin (29) revealed her reasons for dropping out of the trade union, having returned to the screen as a main anchor in MBC TV ‘Newsdesk.’

Bae wrote on the free-speech board of the company’s intranet on the 29th of May that ‘people seem to have interepreted the meaning [of my behaviour] more widely than was my intention, including several mentions on SNS from my colleagues following my return, having appeared in news articles’ adding that by writing the post she intended to reveal her ‘own struggle over that time honestly, that many had been curious about.’

‘I had to be sure, even though it was a bit late [by that time], whether I should give full support for the decisions of the trade union leaders, or review the pretext of the strike,’ she continued. ‘I could not accept aimless mobilisation, without having been sufficiently persuaded about the perspectives of the strike and the fundamental reasons behind starting it.’

She observed that the opposition legislators and the famous names of the progressive front were being invited one by one to encourage the strike, and was worried that the strike was losing balance. She further explained her reasons behind leaving the trade union, saying that ‘the only possible means of political expression and participation that a journalist may take is voting at elections as a balloter.’

She also claimed to have observed many collegues other than herself who also could not fully embrace the extreme decision to strike.

‘An atmosphere of fear in which people could not express themselves developed within the Union as the situation worsened, and wages were cut,’ she revealed. ‘The anxious mindset of my colleagues seems to have been reflected in their provocative comments on SNS, such as ‘you are being yourself’ and ‘you backstabbed us’ after I returned to the screen.’

Bae also argued that members of the Union started feeling uncomfortable with objections or behaviour that might sap the morale behind the struggle. ‘Sometimes they would scold junior colleagues in public and even practice violence, in order to discipline the disloyal ones,’ she said.

‘I repeat time and time again that my position is a newscaster of MBC, a non-member of the trade union,’ she emphasized, adding that ‘I will not leave my place for any reason whatsoever, unless both the sincere pretext and justifiable means are provided.’

The following is the full text describing her stance:

The many comments that my colleagues left on SNS after I joined the strike for 103 days, dropped out of the trade union and returned to the screen, have been written into news articles.

I have certainly stated that it was my personal thoughts and decisions that drove me to return to my job and nothing more, but people seem interpreted a meaning broader than my intentions from this.

I am writing to reveal honestly my mental anguish up to this point, that many have been curious to know about. I have to say that it is regrettable that I need to explain my decision all over again and go through every single event in order.

● The course of joining the strike and leaving the news programme were unavoidable steps at the time.

On Wednesday 25th of January, the group of pressmen in the MBC newsroom embarked on a three-day sit-in, during which they refused to produce the news programmes, demanding the resignation of the Director and Chief of the newsroom. Given the urgent state of affairs in which the news programs could be cancelled, the editorial department of the newsroom decided to reduce the length of the ‘Newsdesk’ programme to 15 minutes on weekdays – Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Following the shortening of the broadcast, the co-anchor system turned into a one-anchor system, and I agreed to leave the programme for a while. But on the first day of the sit-in the mention that ‘MBC forced Bae Hyun-jin to leave’ was being actively re-twitted from the trade union on SNS.

Since it was untrue, I questioned the trade union office in a phonecall. The head of public relations for the trade union, Lee Yong-Ma, answered the phone and said:’I hadn’t noticed it, I am sorry and will remove your name after checking it.’

But the mention had been already re-tweeted countless times. Unknown to myself, I was marked as a female newscaster who was oppressed by the company. I requested that Mr Lee not use my name on things that were not identified to be true.

And three days later, on Saturday, the union decided to enter a full strike, starting at 6 o’clock on Monday the 30th of January. The vote deciding the full strike was carried out at the sit-in and the results were as following.

Among a total of 939 union members, 783 voted, in which 533 voted for, 235 voted against, and 15 votes were spoilt, giving 69.4% agreeing to start the full strike. The rate of agreement was significantly lower than previous strikes but we had to start the strike according to the rules, since it was already ‘passed.’ Of course, there was no opportunity or moment to choose whether to stay in or leave the news programmes, because we were refusing all production. This is why I could not decide my position at that time.

Unionists demand political neutrality and the resignation of MBC's so-called puppet-boss Kim Jae-choel

Unionists demand political neutrality and the resignation of MBC's so-called puppet-boss Kim Jae-choel

● Why and what did Bae Hyun-jin have to worry about?

As a news anchor, I participate in editoral meetings, in the article selection process, and the writing of the script. If we made an unfair report in submission to outside pressure, we should at least apologise with factual evidence, quoting which news on which day, rather than merely stating uncomfortable feelings about general tendencies.

Even though it was a bit late, I had to make sure whether I should give a full support towards the decision made by the Union leaders, or review the pretext of the strike in light of my experience with production of ‘Newsdesk at 9.’ For example I could not accept becoming mobilised aimlessly, without having been sufficiently persuaded about the perspectives of the strike and the fundamental reasons behind starting it.

My senior colleagues brushed my worries aside, saying that I was needlessly concerned, as I was positioned as an anchor at ‘Newsdesk’ shortly after joining the company. They told me to think simply, saying ‘women don’t know about the physiology of an organisation because they haven’t done national service,’ and to just follow them.

I witnessed many colleagues, not just me, who didn’t fully understand the extreme decision to start a strike. It is my 5th year working here, and this is my 4th strike. A lot of cultural events were organised to reduce the burden of successive strikes and the atmosphere was as merry as a university festival. But I think we should have first provided a forum to share the reasons of such a rapid movement to strike.

● On our political neutrality-

It is a sensitive topic. I will make it clear that these are my personal thoughts. While we were delaying active participation in a rally, a fellow anchor received a disciplinary action and was suspended for two months. My colleagues were seized by shock and sense of loss. There formed an atmosphere in which excuses became unacceptable. I was also pressurised to participate loyally in the rallies.

The media shold be independent in order to work towards fair report of news. Nobody would show dissent to that. But we put up the banner of fair report and complete indenpendence of media not merely because we were ‘liberal,’ but also because it felt dangerous to me to tilt towards people from just one of the opposing parties.

I raised an objection via a senior anchor in the executive branch. If we have sharply criticised ourselves about our own mistakes, we must stand back up by ourselves. In particular, I don’t think it right to lend political influence or associate with a particular party. The colleague’s answer was at odds with my intentions:

‘If the conservative politicians or celebrities would show support towards our strike, we will definitely invite them, but we can’t as they are not supporting us.’ Have we already lost the will to stand on our two feet, regardless of conservative or progressive? I felt dejected.

Following the general election on April 11, the movements of the trade union were quieter than before. Rumours that circulated and reached me, saying that the Union was having a mental collapse due to the defeat of the opposition party. Of course the Union made an official rebuttal that none of it was true. I sincerely hope it was merely a rumour.

The only possible means of political expression and participation that a journalist may take is voting at elections as a balloter. I was worried lest our strike would lose such neutrality.

● Intimidation from a senior colleague made me wonder if we could measure the weight of the truth

On the last day of February, when the chill in the air still lingered, I met a senior anchor somewhere in Yeouido. Many senior colleagues were already worried that I was not able to participate actively in the strike, so I asked him if he wanted to see me for the same reason:

‘I am confused, and find it difficult to take part confindently with my reputation at risk. I am a newscaster and honorary ambassador of fair elections, so I cannot join rallies with politially-nuanced chants or with such political characters. It really troubles me that things were written in the trade union newsletter without clarifying the truth of the contents.’

He replied: ‘I asked to see you today because I was angry. We are doing the right thing. Sometimes you need to overlook trivial lies or small truths for the ultimate cause. The sacrifice is unavoidable. If you continue this way, you will not be able to do anything after the strike is over, working as a news anchor or in any other programme. I will see to it whatever happens.’

I answered: ‘With that logic, I should stop asking you annoying questions and quit here and now, as I keep having doubts about the sincerity.’

‘…… that shouldn’t be the case. Then the Union cannot be. If you decide so, I should kneel down now and beg you not to do. Phew…… let’s go. This troubles my digestion.’

Nothing came out of that meeting. Then can we say that truth can be divided into ones more important and others less so?

I’d like to ask. It goes against common sense that the purpose of achieving fairness justifies false and unjust means.

● Personal insults between colleagues baffle me. How could they?

An extraordinary strike, with nowhere to retreat to. A strike that broke the record for being longest. An unutterable atmosphere of fear developed within the union as the situation worsened and wages were cut.

The anxious mindset of my colleagues seems to have been reflected in their provocative statements on SNS, such as ‘you are being yourself’ and ‘you backstabbed us’ after I returned to the screen.

The Union members then started feeling uncomfortable with objections or behaviours that might sap the morale behind the struggle. Sometimes they would scold the junior colleagues in public and, although too awful to believe, would even practice violence in order to discipline the disloyal ones.

These were scenes that should never be witnessed in a trade union, it has to practice democratic procedure. Not only I, but anyone can quit something if they judge it meaningless to participate in it, and their decision is respected – although it might hurt, this is democracy in my opinion. Nobody can lock up or force someone else’s thoughts. I concluded that the healthy mindset, which started by fixing things together, was becoming partially corrupted.

● Last words of confession and promise

I, too, did not want to lose my grip on the issue of being an upright broadcaster and an honest journalist. This is why I worried deeply throughout this strike. It was not an easy decision to make, to drop out of an organisation that the majority belonged to. It was fear that prevented me. The strike will be over at some point. My return might have been more welcome had I watched the situation and participated tactfully. But I thought it would be cowardly of me to follow my wits and act tactfully, when it was increasingly losing meaning to me.

I do respect the intention of the people who are taking part in the strike true to their own conviction. I repeat this time and time again, but my position is as an MBC news anchor and non-member of the trade union. I find the intention and the attempt to group me with a political party or with the company simply because I left the Union extremely unpleasant.

The audience still remains my most stern critic. I will not leave my place for any reason whatwoever, unless both the sincere pretext and justifiable means are provided. Please keep on watching and supporting me. Thank you.

Comments from Nate:

김라현:

Whether you are in or out of the strike, it’s your decision. So the trade union by principle doesn’t make an official response to those who are out. But every time there are too many media reports that criticise the Union and emphasise the company’s side of things – it’s too harsh of you as a colleague to backstab them in this situation. Do you only see the foul side of the Union and not Kim Jae-Cheol’s corrupt deeds? Don’t you see the monopolisation of the media? What kind of values do you hold in life that you make your ridiculous stance, so quick to side with the company, having heard some insults? And if it was not the power but your religious faith and your own sets of values, shouldn’t you have rejected all the benefits from the company? How well-off do you wish to be with the corrupted money? Please be quiet in respect of your colleagues who are suffering in resistence against the authority.

박정아:

I didn’t criticise you, Miss Bae Hyun-jin, when you got out of the trade union.. It’s up to you whether you take part in it or drop out of it. But I want to swear at you, seeing that you have written something like this.. You seem to be trying desperately to look like you behaved out of your conviction. This is at the apex of self-justification. Why do you act this way when you should know better as an educated person?

이강한:

They talk about justice but it gets uglier with time ㅡㅡ

김영성:

Journalists should remain neutral. So should the soldiers and public servants. But they never seem to keep their neutrality as if the Democratic Party is the Good. As it appears in the text above, the essence of the strike was probably lost by the time the Democratic personnels were supporting them at the back. A drop of ink corrupts even the purest water. I didn’t think it was quite right when they started their strike before the general and presidential elecctions. Of course there would have been many people who started it with an innocent intention to promote fair report, right to know and freedom of expression, but the problem is that there were also people who didn’t [have such intentions]. The candlelit demonstrations against BSE in 2008 rose out of an innocent intention, but later it corrupted, demanding ‘MB out’ and ‘US army out.’ This strike might be similar. But I’m not saying MB has done the right thing. There might be some oppression of the media somewhere. But I repeat that the biggest mistake in this strike was that they could not completely keep out the pickets such as getting support from the Democratic personnels, demanding MB out, arguing against the naval base and insisting on US army withdrawal.

선형래:

The public as the audience should judge whether the MBC strike is going on now for the public broadcasting in its true sense, or used as a tool for struggle of political powers. Up until a while ago, it might not have been acceptable to drop out one by one of the Union. But if anchor Bae wrote the confession above herself, there is high enough possibility that others may not hesitate any more to explode within the Union. It is right to judge the situation carefully and from all sides, not calling Kim Jae-Cheol a shithead just because one can’t watch the Infinite Challenge [a very famous and popular comedy/variety program that has stopped showing due to the strike]. They say Mr Kim became the president of MBC by the order of above, but you can’t say so if you look up the steps he went through to becoming appointed the president. I wrote this comment out of lament at the political corruption of the strike.

허용준:

What are those people who criticise that she will get ostracised after the strike is over? Is it wrong to go one’s own way because one thinks differently, or is it wrong to ostracise that person?

김상욱:

Miss Bae, you don’t want to live as a journalist anyway~ You dream of marrying into a Mogul family after hanging around there for a while, like anchor Noh……. Don’t hurt the people on a strike and many who thought you were following them in their path. Just marry into a rich family, that’s what you were after when you started out as a news anchor..

신근수:

Oh so fucking funny, why do politicians loaf around and encourage strikes? Don’t the politicians really have nothing else to do? Shouldn’t they be worrying their brains out about how to revive the economy if they have so much free time in their hands?

Comments from Naver:

calv****:

I’m 100% sure that someone will say that she is making excuses, upon reading the article of this sort. What do you expect from the trade union that’s on an illegal strike? The folks who work for the so-called public broadcasting utter everything in the biased point of view. And then I’ll see nonsense about me being an alba, eh? Nonsense about alba’s is the eternal favourite of the Dr-Mundo-brained leftists!!

chao****:

Let me tell you the truth about the MBC trade union. The staff who entered the company in the time of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-Hyun have dominated the union, and those who used to be in it so far have followed the path of becoming a member of the National Assembly or the governor, taking the line of the authentic Democratic Party. They wanted to do broadcasting supporting the Democratic Party this year again, in preparation for the general election. But Jae-cheol stopped them, so they were trying to raise the public opinion with an excuse of a strike. And they were intending to come back as if nothing happened, once the election was over, but..

focs****:

Article 21 of the Consititution of the Republic of Korea. All media have the freedom of expression and must not be censored. But now all the right-wing persons have replaced the governmental and CEO positions, following the orders from the Blue House, and it has been reported so during the past two years. Is this neutrality of the media? The Blue House is essentially dominating and censoring the media, so do you think this is right? The conservative dumbasses who are going to vote ‘down’ on my comment, write clearly why the guarantees of the Constitution doesn’t come true before clicking on ‘down’. If you press ‘down’ but can’t rebut, you are just so stupid that you are stirred up by Bae Hyun-jin.

hari****:

Miss Bae, you quit the trade union because its direction was politically biased, but now acting as a spokesperson of the CEO Kim who is the servant of current political authority – does it make sense?? If you didn’t sit at the [News]desk as soon as you quitted the Union, you would have persuaded us better, but you did, straight on the next day;; If you had said ‘I can’t give the position of an anchor, because I worked so hard for it,’ you would have got some pitiful eyes at least [but not criticism]. You are starting out a media tact now that you are seated at the [News]desk. The public aren’t that easy to fool. Just shut up and be diligent with your work you are given.

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  • skippy

    silly sofa! I’m happy to see some good news about MBC (instead of the “evil foreigner” video).
    People taking a stand for political neutrality. Good.

  • Jang

    “She also claimed to have observed many collegues other than herself who also could not fully embrace the extreme decision to strike.”

    I agree, the decision to strike was at least partly political – Anti-Americanism – Top-boss Kim Jae-cheol’s decision or preference that MBC not report on stupid mantra “Oh no, U.S. Beef is bad, so let’s ban U.S. beef” simply didn’t sit well with MBC’s extreme left(Chinbo) trade union past followers of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-Hyun.

    Can’t forget about MBC trade union’s violence…
    “Bae also argued that members of the Union started feeling uncomfortable with objections or behaviour that might sap the morale behind the struggle. ‘Sometimes they would scold junior colleagues in public and even practice violence, in order to discipline the disloyal ones,’ she said.

    Shame on MBC – just turn the channel, watch something else.

  • Mich’insaeki

    @ Jang

    Yep… exactly. We demand the right to be leftist politically neutral.

  • Kim Jong-un

    Her perfect face has no sign of plastic surgery, that is a miracle.

    • Jang

      Who are you trying to fool? It looks like she’s gone under the knife, see eyes and nose. But, I applaud her on the decision to stand up for herself against those dumb asses who think they know better than her just because they did military service.

      • Brett Sanbon

        She has nice hands though. Never underestimate a good, natural, pair of hands.

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