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Strikes, Sit-ins Shape Debate Over Future Of South Korea's Media

Striking workers from several major South Korean broadcasters are protesting a sweeping plan to reshape the country's media landscape. South Korean conservatives have the votes to pass the measure easily. The bill is among those opposed by minority lawmakers who say they'll prevent a vote by any means necessary.

Members of South Korea's ruling Grand National Party -or GNP - including South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, say their media reform bill is a necessary update for changing times and technologies.

However, several thousand union workers from major South Korean broadcasters gathered Monday for a protest at the country's parliament here in Seoul.

The bill would get rid of legal barriers that currently stop some of South Korea's largest newspapers and corporate conglomerates from getting into the television business. If passed, South Korean media firms could adopt a model seen in other developed countries, where a single company owns both a daily newspaper and a stake of a news or entertainment channel.

Hwang Geun is a professor of journalism at South Korea's Sunmun University. He says the bill is not perfect, but does seek to address a changing media environment.

He says in the past, when there were only a few South Korean media companies, there was plenty of advertising revenue to make profits. However, he says in recent years, there are so many companies offering content over the internet and other digital media that larger companies need to be able to diversify in order to compete.

South Korea's three largest newspapers - the Chosun Ilbo, the Dong-a Ilbo, and the Joongang Ilbo - stand to gain the most from the media reform law. Together, they control about 70 percent of South Korea's print media circulation. All three are widely seen as conservative-leaning. Opponents of the reform bill view it as a power grab by President Lee.

Kim Myung-hwan is a cameraman with South Korea's MBC network, which has been sharply critical of Mr. Lee in the past. He says his camera lens views reality through the eyes of the people-- not through the eyes of Lee Myung-bak and his allies. He says the protesters will fight to defeat the law, and will win.

The protesters have allies inside the parliament. Since Friday, members of South Korea's minority Democratic party have blocked voting on the media reform bill and other controversial measures by staging a sit-in in the assembly hall.

However, that may not be enough to defeat the bill. President Lee's GNP easily outnumbers its main opponents by 2-to-1, and has warned it may soon use its mandate to put an end to the parliamentary sit-in.