중앙데일리

Broadcasters are using air waves, a public property, to provide their service.

Why do consumers have a say in TV programming?

Jan 01,2008
Recently a controversy arose over whether major television stations should be allowed to run mid-program commercials.
Advocates claim that mid-program commercials will help broadcasters raise more money to provide high-quality TV programs. Opposing groups argue that the quality of TV programs would be degraded since the broadcasters are likely to produce more sensational programs to compete for ratings and it would not be in the interest of television consumers.
Korea’s three major television networks ― MBC, SBS and KBS ― are not allowed to run mid-program commercials, while cable and satellite television operators do not have that restriction.
The broadcasters have long complained that they need more sources of income to help them carry out the government-required switch to a digital-based infrastructure by 2012, pointing to waning ad revenues due to increasing numbers of stations.
But civic groups have claimed the change would intensify the already cutthroat competition for ratings because viewers are more likely to flip channels during commercials. The Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media, a local civic group, said major broadcasters have not done enough to extricate themselves from their financial difficulties, instead insisting that mid-program commercials are the only solution. The civic groups also worry that the mid-program commercials would violate the rights of television consumers.
Opponents to mid-program commercials on television channels, which operate on frequencies that are public property, invoke the principle of sovereignty ― which refers to self-determination exercised by states or individuals ― in protecting the interest of television consumers.
According to the principle, TV programs belong to consumers ― the people watching TV. Television consumer sovereignty is exercised with the consumers’ right to have a say in the production of TV programs, express opinions about the programs, and receive useful information through TV programs. Television viewers also have the right to be protected from invasion of privacy or damage to reputation by TV programs or broadcasters.
These rights, though not stipulated in law, are implicitly given based on social consensus. The law on broadcasters, which went into effect in 2000, indirectly supports these rights in its articles on the protection of TV consumer rights.
Moreover, while newspaper publishers print news using their own supply of paper, broadcasters deliver their messages through radio waves, which are public property. Radio waves are considered public property or public goods, like air or water.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, radio waves are defined as electromagnetic waves of frequencies arbitrarily lower than 3,000 gigahertz.
“We can use electromagnetic waves of frequencies between 9 and 275 GHz,” said Joo Jong-ok, an official at the Ministry of Information and Communication. “Electromagnetic waves of frequencies lower than 9 kilohertz or above 275 GHz cannot be used to transmit information.”
The ministry classified radio waves into 41 categories, according to the standards of ITU. Radio waves for major broadcasters are limited to channels between 2 and 69. The ministry distributes the channels each broadcaster can use. The broadcasters do not own radio waves but are allowed ― licensed by the government ― to use them for a certain amount of time to provide services for the public. Thus, broadcasters need to regularly renew their license to use radio waves. The ministry and the Korean Broadcasting Commission regulate and review broadcasters and the content of TV programs.
Some say that TV viewers have sovereignty over TV programs because they are its consumers. Television viewers have the right to choose what they want. Others say that consumers have sovereignty because they pay broadcasters. Broadcasters operate with the television fees paid by consumers and from ad sales.
“In our country, the movement to protect TV consumer sovereignty was initiated from the civic movement to monitor and criticize broadcasters which used to be controlled by and serve authoritarian regimes,” said Roh Young-ran, an official at a civic group that champions the rights of media consumers. “A campaign in 1993 to stop watching TV, led by civic groups, is one example of such a movement.” The campaign was launched to stop broadcasters from airing sensational programs.
The law on broadcasters provides diverse measures to protect the rights of TV consumers. They can express their opinion through consumer committees of broadcasters or TV programs where they can participate in or appear on. Viewers sometimes even force broadcasters to change the plots of TV dramas.
Some critics argue that the public nature of broadcasting, using a public property ― radio waves ― has become outdated as diverse new media such as Internet media or satellite broadcasting have been introduced.
Civic groups contend that in the era of diverse media, consumers’ sovereign rights are still important. The media should provide services for the public because consumers are paying for the new media through registration fees, television fees or indirectly through ad sales, according to the groups.


By Jang Wook JoongAng Ilbo [soejung@joongang.co.kr]


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