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(LEAD) Chief of media union arrested for leading 'illegal' walkout

All Headlines 15:31 July 27, 2009

(ATTN: UPDATES with opposition legislators' move, union's press conference, union chief's comment in paras 7-10; CORRECTS typo in para 2)

SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- Police on Monday arrested the chief of a national union of media workers, accusing him of leading a days-long "illegal" walkout against government-led media reforms.

Thousands of unionized workers at South Korea's newspapers and television networks have protested against the media law revisions, under which large firms and major newspapers will be allowed to own stakes in terrestrial and cable television stations.

Critics view the revisions, unilaterally passed by the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) last week as lawmakers scuffled in the National Assembly, as favorable to conglomerates and as part of an attempt by the conservative government to exercise greater control over major news outlets.

Opposition parties and media unionists argue the GNP vote was invalid, citing procedural violations. They suspect some of the ruling party votes were cast by legislators' aides, an issue currently under parliamentary investigation.

Choi Sang-jae, chief of the National Union of Media Workers -- which claims thousands of workers, including those from the country's major terrestrial TV stations -- was arrested at his house Monday morning and is currently being questioned, police said.

"He has been arrested on charges of interfering with the normal affairs of the media by leading four days of illegal strikes from July 21," Seoul's Yeongdeungpo Police Station said.

Choi said he will go on a hunger strike from Monday, insisting the government's "political intentions" to weaken his union's protest were behind his arrest.

Calling the arrest an "oppressive action against media," about 40 union members held a press conference outside the police station, vowing to strengthen their anti-government protest for "the sake of democracy."

Scores of legislators from the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) also visited Choi at the police station, slamming authorities for their "unjust and anti-democratic" arrest of the union head.

"It does not make any sense to handcuff Chairman Choi in front of his wife and daughter when he officially requested the summons be delayed and there was no possibility of him fleeing," said Choo Mi-ae, a DP lawmaker.

President Lee Myung-bak, a former CEO and strong proponent of market principles, has been seeking since his inauguration in February last year to amend the nation's media laws, including the broadcasting law. He says the revisions will spur competition in the media sector, which he believes is falling behind global trends.

The previous broadcasting law, established in the 1980s, prohibited cross ownership of print media and television stations to prevent monopolies in the media industry.

Lee's party, which controls a majority of 169 seats in the 299-member unicameral house, passed the revision bills last Wednesday after it failed to narrow differences with opposition parties despite weeks of negotiations.

Labeling the media union's strike "illegal," the government has warned of civil and criminal charges against participating members.

hayney@yna.co.kr
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