What They Said is a weekly series on the quotes behind the headlines.
A couple of important things happened this past week in South Korea that warrant your attention.
The first was a major personnel reshuffle at KBS, South Korea’s national broadcaster. On November 12, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol named Park Min the president of KBS. The next day, Park implemented personnel changes for 72 people at management level, pushing out most of those who are closely associated with the National Union of Mediaworkers (NUM). On November 14, he again made 102 personnel assignments, mainly for the department heads. Moreover, hosts of KBS’s major TV news programs were replaced, along with the hosts of KBS’s radio news programs. Most were given a few hours’ notice.
In his inauguration speech, Park Min spoke of “reforms at the level of re-creation” in an effort to address perceptions of bias and failings:
“… KBS needs to prepare for the future. For over ten years, the media market has undergone disruptive changes, yet KBS has not made adequate preparations. Even major domestic terrestrial broadcasters have sought change through the innovation of their production systems, KBS has been too focused on maintaining its vested interests. Now we should not hesitate to undertake a comprehensive reorganization and personnel reshuffle to proactively adapt to the changes in the media market.
If such self-reform takes place, the public’s trust in KBS will be restored. If the public empathizes with the necessity of KBS, we can overcome its financial crisis. If KBS regains people’s love and financial stability, it will be able to overcome the crisis faced by terrestrial networks and become a public broadcaster that will lead the future.
It’s a challenging journey, but it will be a meaningful one for me as a member of the media. Although insufficient, I will strive to take the lead, standing up against billowing winds and removing obstacles…”
— Park Min, President of KBS, November 14, 2023
The KBS chapter of NUM has harshly criticized the reshuffle:
“From day one of Park Min’s presidency at KBS, there have been successive violations of the organizational rules and collective agreements.
Today KBS announced the removal of the current affairs program, The Live, through KOBIS. It is to be replaced with reruns of the historical TV drama Goryeo-Khitan War and the comedy program Gag Concert.
The Live, which was originally scheduled to air on the programming chart, was suddenly canceled today, the day of Park Min’s inauguration ceremony. … Although it seems like a mere schedule change, it is indicative of the show’s impending cancellation.
Similar events unfolded in the Radio Center. Even before the appointed Radio Center director took office, he called the producer in charge of the show Joo Jin-Woo Live to inform them about the host Joo Jin-woo’s departure and ordered the production of a special program hosted by a journalist from the news division. … Moreover, it turned out that the new management removed Kim Ki-hwa, who had been the host of the program Ultimate Current Affairs [최강시사 Choegangsisa] since reporter Choi Gyeong-yeong resigned, from the program and informed the production team of the decision to appoint someone from the KBS workers’ union, who has been actively denigrating KBS’s news and programs. … All these illegal actions occurred within a day of Park Min’s appointment as president. This can be seen as nothing short of a declaration of war toward the members of KBS, a signal to turn the public broadcaster KBS into a trumpet or the government.”
— KBS Chapter of the National Union of Mediaworkers, November 15, 2023
On November 20, the KBS chapter announced its plan to file a lawsuit against Park for violating the Broadcast Act and the Trade Unions Act.
The second issue concerned Korea’s e-government. In the early hours of November 17, Korea’s digital government system went down. It was a system failure of unprecedented scale with all municipal services and operations halted as government documents, such as resident registration certificates, could not be issued for an entire day.
The Democratic Party of Korea harshly rebuked the Yoon Suk Yeol administration for the system failure:
“Today, the local administrative network and the government’s online civil service ‘Government 24’ have been suspended due to a government network error. This unprecedented incident resulted in the complete interruption of intergovernmental business processing and the issuance of civil complaint documents. Citizens are experiencing inconvenience, yet the exact time for the restoration of the system remains unclear. This shocking event undermines the status and the people’s trust in e-government. This is a symbolic incident that illustrates the comprehensive incompetence of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s governance. Is the administration aiming to paralyze and destroy the nation’s systems now, after all the economic hardship it has caused in people’s lives? This year alone, the suspension of NEIS [National Education Information System] paralyzed school administration, and now even the local administrative network and the government’s online civil services. How is the Yoon Suk Yeol administration running this country? On top of all this, we have not heard about exactly what went wrong and when the network and system will be restored…”
— Democratic Party of Korea, November 17, 2023
Thankfully, most operations began again by Saturday, and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo issued an apology on Saturday for the inconvenience and confusion:
“I apologize for the inconvenience and confusion caused to the people. We will do our best to normalize the system as quickly as possible.”
— Han Duck-soo, prime minister of South Korea, November 18, 2023
Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min cut his trip to the United States short and immediately returned to Korea to address the problem. The entire system was fully back online and functioning 53 hours after the initial outage.
Experts voiced their opinions regarding why the system failure occurred, and how it was handled:
“There have been several instances of disruption in our information system in the past. Recently, there was an issue with NEIS, under the Ministry of Education. But we have double standards for private companies and the government—we’re more critical with corporations and less so with the government. This has happened over and over again. I work in IT, and I’ve also worked with government-affiliated organizations, but I have never seen anyone at the ministerial level or bureau chief-level being held accountable for disruptions in the information system. No disciplinary actions or dismissals.”
— Kim Seung-ju, professor at Korea University, November 20, 2023