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(2nd LD) New KBS chief pledges 'neutral management'

All Headlines 16:44 November 24, 2009

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS new head's speech in paras 3-4, career background in last para)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) -- Kim In-kyu, the newly appointed chief of South Korea's largest broadcaster, KBS, officially began his duties Tuesday, striving to calm an internal boycott by pledging "politically neutral" management.

Kim, a media adviser to President Lee Myung-bak during his 2007 campaign, faced an office blockade by unionized KBS employees Tuesday and was barely able to enter his office for his first day of work. The KBS labor union views Kim as a "political parachute appointee" by the conservative government.

"I am aware some people suspect I came to dominate KBS, but this is not the case. You have my word. I came to protect KBS from political and capital forces," Kim said at his inaugural ceremony, held hours later than scheduled due to protests by union workers.

"I have no plan to run the broadcaster as the government's wishes just because I worked for the presidential election camp," Kim said. "I have a clear principle on how to make KBS a real public broadcaster and need support from everyone to achieve some critical goals."

President Lee appointed Kim last week, after he was nominated on Nov. 19 by the KBS board of directors. His nomination met with opposition from employees who suspect the administration is attempting to tame the broadcaster.

South Korea's broadcasting law stipulates the president's right to appoint the chief of a state-run television firm.

"The Lee Myung-bak administration is attempting to castrate the independence of public broadcasting by appointing a presidential adviser to the top position," the KBS union said in an earlier press release.

The union said it will go on an indefinite strike from Dec. 3 after holding an all-members' vote Nov. 26-30 on the issue.

Kim's appointment comes amid lingering confrontation between Lee and the public TV station 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 the appointment of Lee Byung-soon who took office after Jung Yun-joo, a well-known dissenter to the incumbent administration's media policy, was dismissed by the government.

Jung's dismissal came last summer when President Lee saw his young presidency rattled by critical reports from domestic broadcasting firms on his policies including the decision to resume imports of U.S. beef.

While the government held 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.

Critics see the issue as closely related to President Lee's media reforms under which large firms and major newspapers will be allowed to own television networks.

The previous law prohibited the cross-ownership of print media and television stations to prevent monopoly in the media industry.

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

After joining KBS in 1973, Kim worked in various positions, including as head of KBS's new media center, correspondent to New York and Washington and head of the policy-making bureau. Until recently, he served as the chairman of the Digital Media Industry Association.


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