Korean President to appoint new KBS chief despite opposition

by Andy Sennitt.

Unionized workers at Korea’s largest broadcaster KBS were today escalating opposition to the nomination of a former presidential adviser as their new chief, ahead of his official appointment by President Lee Myung-bak. According to Yonhap News, the KBS board of directors nominated Kim In-kyu, chairman of the Digital Media Industry Association, as the TV station’s new president yesterday, sparking objection from employees who suspected government influence. Mr Kim, 59, served as a media adviser for President Lee during his 2007 presidential election.

The nomination of Mr Kim comes amid a lingering confrontation between President Lee and the KBS over his market-oriented media reforms and an alleged attempt to increase control of media by filling its top positions with those favorable to the conservative government. Employees at KBS have launched several strikes over the past year, protesting against their current chief Lee Byung-soon. Mr Lee was appointed following the dismissal of Jung Yun-joo, a well-known dissenter to the incumbent administration’s media policy. While the government held Mr Jung responsible for up to US$150 million in losses during his five years in office, critics berated the measure as a scheme to replace a supporter of the former government.

The KBS labour union is also opposed to the appointment of Mr Kim, viewing him as “another puppet” of President Lee. Some union members have been on hunger strike since last week, opposing the nomination of Mr Kim or a possible reappointment of current chief Lee Byung-soon. Mr Kim was among the five candidates recommended by board members.

“We will make decision on our future course of action after holding an all-member vote on the nomination of Kim In-kyu,” the union said in a press release.

The board was to recommend Kim be appointed by President Lee later on Friday. South Korea’s broadcasting law stipulates the president’s right to appoint the chief of a state-run broadcasting firm. Once appointed by the president, Mr Kim will succeed Mr Lee beginning on 24 November and hold the post for three years.

“I thank the board of directors for their decision. My shoulders feel heavy with responsibility,” Mr Kim said in a press release late yesterday. “I am ready to work hard on reforming KBS as a public broadcaster that is clearly different from a commercial broadcaster.”

Supporters of Mr Kim say the nomination was rightfully made as KBS is in need of an experienced man to tackle various pending issues, including an increase in the TV licence fee and successfully transitioning to a digital broadcasting system by 2013.