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[Newsmaker] With Mayor Oh in office, eyes are on Kim Ou-joon of TBS’ ‘News Factory’
Popular radio host maligned by critics for political partisanship, questioned on pay
Published : Apr 18, 2021 - 16:34
Updated : Apr 18, 2021 - 17:52
Kim Ou-joon (TBS)
Left-wing radio host Kim Ou-joon of Traffic Broadcasting System’s “News Factory” is under fire from right-wing party members as they challenge Kim’s outspoken political partisan views on a public-funded traffic news radio station, as well as his pay.

TBS’ “News Factory” has been the most popular radio program in Korea since 2018, according to Hankook Research. Kim, who has been the show’s host since 2016, was listed as the second most influential person in media by weekly magazine Sisa Journal in 2020, following JTBC President Sohn Suk-hee.

However, Kim has been long criticized for using the TBS show to air his leftist views. The program has been penalized six times by the Korea Communications Standards Commission since 2018 -- the most for any program -- for violation of objectivity.

On the show, Kim alleged that Lee Yong-su, a former Japanese military sex slave, or “comfort woman,” was being manipulated behind the scenes when she claimed that a former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan had embezzled donations to comfort women. Outspoken about his views on political parties, he also criticized conservative former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn’s autobiography.

“News Factory” was also the program most penalized by the Election Broadcasting Deliberative Committee during the Seoul mayoral by-election.

The program received a penalty for claiming that the reason for a press conference held by the Seoul City employee, who was sexually harassed by former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, was to sway the people not to vote for the Democratic Party.

The show was also penalized for claiming that the only two instances where people had profited from land compensation were the Four Major Rivers Project and Naegok-dong development. The Four Major Rivers Project was carried out during the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration while the Naegok-dong development plan was created during Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s previous tenure as mayor.

However, except for one offense that is still under discussion by the committee, the program has only received minor warnings.

As Oh Se-hoon, who ran on the conservative People Power Party ticket, was elected Seoul mayor on April 8, many expect changes at TBS, which receives 70 percent of its funding from the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Oh mentioned during his campaign that he will allow TBS and Kim Ou-joon to continue, but only if the program and the host focus solely on providing traffic information.

Launched by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 1990, TBS established itself as an independent media foundation last year and is no longer under the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Although Oh can propose cuts to the TBS budget via the Seoul Metropolitan Council, the council is overwhelmingly dominated by Democratic Party of Korea members -- 101 of the 110 council members -- making such cuts unlikely to pass.

On Thursday, the People Power Party questioned Kim’s pay for hosting “News Factory,” claiming that Kim has been paid 2 million won ($1,790) per episode on a verbal contract and the amount exceeds a TBS regulation that limits the fee at 1 million won.

In an online statement issued later that day, TBS refuted the claims.

“We cannot reveal the amount Kim was paid due to the Personal Information Protection Act,” said TBS. “In the regulations made in April 2020 when we launched TBS, it says ‘the maximum amount of payment can be increased by the CEO after considering the content participant’s name value, popularity, expertise and career, among others.’”

TBS mentioned that it is customary for the media industry to have verbal contracts with show hosts and that actions are being taken by the industry to remove these customs.

As for criticisms that Kim was being overpaid, TBS said that “News Factory” brings in nearly 7 billion won in profit each year through advertisements. The production costs for “News Factory” account for less than 10 percent of the profit the show generates, according to TBS.

There were also other claims that Kim had set up a private company to pay less in tax. TBS said in response it could not reveal any personal information. Kim on Thursday said, “I reported every penny of my appearance fee on my aggregate income tax.”

“Why do people dig around my personal account when I am not even a public official? Don’t exaggerate,” Kim added.

Meanwhile, a Blue House website petition demanding Kim’s removal from TBS, citing his one-sided political views as disrupting the broadcast, was uploaded on April 9 and had been signed by 288,000 people as of Sunday morning. The Blue House is obliged to respond to petitions that gather more than 200,000 signatures in their first 30 days.

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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