The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned at reports of the arrest of four union leaders involved in the high profile industrial dispute between YTN media workers and management in South Korea.
The Journalists’ Association of Korea (JAK), an IFJ affiliate, reports that Mr Jong-Myun Roh, chairman of the YTN union, Mr Duck-Soo Hyun, former chairman of the YTN union, Mr Seoung-Ho Jo and Mr Jang-Hyuk Lim were arrested on March 22 and continue to be held by police.
Police reportedly said the four had failed to maintain an appointment to appear before the police.However, JAK representatives told the IFJ the four leaders had agreed with police on a scheduled appearance on Thursday March 26.
A general strike by YTN staff was planned to be launched today to protest the failure of YTN management to reach a compromise with the YTN labour union in the company’s annual negotiation on salary and working conditions.
“The arbitrary arrest of four union leaders on the eve of a major YTN workplace action points to direct intervention by the authorities to weaken planned industrial activities by the YTN staff,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.
YTN staff have been protesting for seven months to seek guarantees of editorial independence at the broadcaster, following last year’s appointment of Gu Bon-Hong as YTN president. Gu previously worked as an aide to South Korea’s President, Myung-Bak Lee, which raised concerns among YTN staff about potential attempts by the Government to exercise undue political influence on the broadcaster.
On February 24, the Korean Communications Commission (KCC) confirmed the renewal of YTN’s broadcaster’s business licence after significant delays to its scheduled renewal date in December 2008.
Ongoing protests by YTN media workers have resulted in management dismissing some staff and initiating disciplinary action, complaints to police and court injunctions. Six staff who were dismissed as a result of the dispute remain without their jobs and the YTN union continues to fight for their reinstatement.
While hopeful that YTN management will initiate fresh talks with staff to seek a positive resolution of the dispute, the IFJ condemns these latest actions by police.
“The IFJ urges the Government of South Korea and YTN management to encourage open dialogue with YTN staff and union leaders to resolve the dispute, including actions to reinstate sacked workers and end disciplinary actions against staff,” Park said.
“Arresting union leaders who are acting in the interests of press freedom and the Korean public is, however, unhelpful and unproductive,” Park said.
In February, journalists in Korea including MBC announcers released a video on YouTube alerting the public to the demise of freedom of expression in South Korea.