Photo: YTN headquarters in Seoul. Credit: the Blue Roof.
Like many TV stations in South Korea, YTN has a convoluted history. The 24-hour news channel launched in 1995 as the television offshoot of Yonhap News 연합뉴스, South Korea’s main wire service. (The name YTN originally stood for Yonhap Television News, but the station since severed ties with Yonhap, which started a new TV channel.) YTN quickly established itself as a reliable source of facts-based headline news with limited partisanship and balanced coverage, a reputation it maintains to this day.
But in the aftermath of the 1997 East Asian Financial Crisis, the station fell into a deep financial hole and was sold off to Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) 한국전력공사. Eventually, the Kim Dae-jung 김대중 administration pushed several publicly owned corporations such as Korea Tobacco & Ginseng (KT&G) 담배인삼공사 and Korea Racing Authority (KRA) 한국 마사회 to invest in YTN, tossing a lifeline to the beleaguered news channel. KEPCO, KT&C and KRA collectively owned 50.9% of the company until recently, giving YTN the same awkward in-between status as many other South Korean TV stations such as MBC: a nominally private company that is ultimately publicly owned. This state of affairs has brought YTN into the crosshairs of the privatization-happy Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration.
On September 8, KEPCO and KRA made the surprise announcement that they would sell their 30.95% stake in YTN, a large enough share to make any buyer the new owner of the cable news channel. On October 20, three companies - Hansae Co. 한세실업, the Eugene Group 유진그룹, and the Unification Church 통일교-affiliated Global Peace Foundation 글로벌피스재단 - submitted bids to purchase the stake. On October 23, the Eugene Group, a mid-tier chaebol with a focus on construction and securities, won with a bid of KRW 320b (USD 236m). YTN’s executives and labor union leaders issued separate statements noting that the Eugene Group has no experience in operating a media company, and expressing concern that the private ownership will undermine the objectivity that the channel previously enjoyed as a publicly held company.