Sackings and programme changes as new head of KBS starts

16th November 2023
The controversial appointment of Park Min as President of KBS has started with a slew of sackings and programme changes that have angered critics.
The KBS logo on the side of its HQ building.
KBS is the main public broadcaster for South Korea. Credit: KBS


  • The first week in charge for the new president of KBS, Park Min, has been marked by a slew of sackings and programme changes.
  • The KBS union described the appointment as political and threatened legal action.
  • Mr. Park said the embattled public broadcaster needs dramatic reform, but critics said it is an assault on media freedoms. 


A slew of sackings and programming changes by the new President of South Korea’s public broadcaster, KBS, has prompted concerns that the broadcaster’s political independence is under threat.

Less than a week into the job, Park Min is already facing legal action from broadcasting unions and opposition politicians, who have called his appointment as president and chief executive politically motivated.

Mr. Park, who is a former newspaper journalist, was approved for the position by the broadcaster’s board and approved by South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday.

Read more: Park Min put forward as new KBS CEO & President

He immediately stepped in with sweeping changes for the country’s national broadcaster, which was founded in 1927 and operates ten television channels, seven radio networks, and multiple web offerings and subsidiaries.

Sackings and programme changes

On Monday, according to reports from newspapers The Korean Times and Hankyoreh, Mr. Park dismissed a presenter of the country’s main news programme KBS News 9, as well as another prominent talk radio host. He also removed several current affairs programmes which in the past have been accused of bias by President Yoon’s People’s Power Party from the schedules, including current affairs programme The Live.

At a subsequent news conference, Mr Park justified the actions by saying the company had lost trust due to “unfair and biased reporting” during the tenure of his predecessor.

“I sincerely apologise for the loss of trust by undermining fairness, which is a core value of a public broadcaster,” Mr Park was quoted as saying.

His predecessor, Kim Eui-chul, was dismissed in September after a majority of the KBS Board accused him of weakening public trust and worsening finances. It followed the appointment of several new members who shifted the balance of power on the 11-member board, giving the conservative faction a majority.

Mr. Kim subsequently launched a legal challenge, but a decision is not expected for a couple of years. However, a temporary appeal which would have seen Mr. Kim continue in his role while the longer-term legal challenge was considered was turned down by the courts.

“These actions appear to be in violation of the Broadcast Act, which guarantees freedom of independence” – KBS branch of the National Union of Media Workers

The new chief executive also promised wide-ranging reforms at the embattled public broadcaster: “We should not hesitate to conduct a major structural overhaul and relocate employees,” Mr Park said.

“Over the past ten years, the media industry went through self-destructive changes, but KBS did not sufficiently prepare itself for the changes,” he said, criticising the broadcaster as only being busy with keeping its vested interests.

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Park Min’s actions a “violation”

Mr Park’s appointment was precipitated by an array of dismissals and reappointments at executive roles throughout KBS, which critics say was intended to pave the way for Mr Park’s appointment.

Already, the KBS branch of the National Union of Media Workers is preparing to challenge the measures, saying Mr. Park violated a collective agreement as well as rules concerning the broadcast schedule. It said programmes were removed without any consultation.

“These actions also appear to be in violation of the Broadcast Act, which guarantees freedom and independence of the broadcast schedule and stipulates that nobody can interfere in such affairs,” the union said in a statement that promised legal action. South Korea’s main opposition party also joined the criticism, saying the government was operating in a way to conquer the press.

Last week, the opposition passed several bills to overhaul broadcast laws which would increase the number of board members for KBS as well as other public media entities, MBC and EBS. Additionally, the power of making those appointments would be split up between external parties such as politicians, academics, audiences, and professional organisations. The position of President would be chosen by the 100-member National Recommendation Committee. However, these laws are highly likely to be vetoed by the President.

Another proposal to impeach the Chair of the media regulator, the KCC, was withdrawn.

The Union also described the broadcaster’s recent nightly news programme, News 9, as a “disgrace to 50 years of KBS history”, reported the liberal newspaper, Hankyoreh. In the broadcast, the anchor started the bulletin by apologising for four previous incidents since 2019, which they claimed, were “representative examples of KBS’ reporting fairness being compromised.”

“We should not hesitate to conduct a major structural overhaul and relocate employees” – Park Min, President of KBS. 

In an editorial, Hankyoreh described the situation as “truly dire” and said “few if any Koreans are unaware where all of this is pointing: a network with a pro-Yoon Suk-yeol bias. The people involved must be held accountable in the court of public opinion for collaborating with political authorities in the trampling of public broadcasting”.

Academics too have criticised the move. Kang Sang-hyun, Professor Emeritus at Yonsei University and the former President of the Korean Association for Broadcasting and Telecommunication Studies, told Hankyoreh the “forceful measures” were designed to “take control of KBS as soon as possible in order to set up an advantageous playing field for next year’s general election.”

KBS has been embroiled in a crisis for months now, with a state of emergency declared this year over its finances, and the government’s approval of significant changes to its funding mechanism. KBS no longer receives licence fees through collections via the Korean Electric Power Corporation, instead leaving KBS to find a means to collect its revenue independently.

The changes to the KBS system come amid what critics see as a wider attack on media freedom by the conservative administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol. The head of Mr Yoon’s party recently called for the death sentences for a case of “high treason”, while the culture ministry has vowed to root out what it called an “organised and dirty” conspiracy to undermine democracy.

The president is routinely turning to lawsuits, state regulators and criminal investigations to clamp down on speech that he calls disinformation, efforts that have largely been aimed at news organisations.