[EDITORIAL] Gaining Total Media IndependenceThe ruling and opposition camps continue to clash over whether the media tax audit is an attempt to suppress press freedom. During policy coordination meeting of Grand National Party lawmakers on Feb. 20, the GNP's Special Committee for the Prevention of Media Control said, "We will strongly push for reform in the five public media organizations: KBS, MBC, YTN, Yonhap News, and the Korea Daily News."
Pointing out that the presidents of all five of these organizations are from the Honam region of Korea (President Kim Dae-jung's home area) and that seven of the nine members of the Broadcasting Committee and four out of the five members of the panel's standing committee are closely linked to the administration, the GNP criticized the dominance of forces loyal to the ruling camp in the government-invested media and announced that through its own special committee it will propose specific reform measures. On Feb. 6, the committee declared its intention to reform public broadcasting by amending the Broadcasting Act and to expand freedom of the press through institutional improvements. In its statement, the committee said, "Where the reform is most needed is the publicly managed media, which lack such basic functions of a free press as criticism and fair reportage, and without reform in broadcasting there can be no media reform."
The GNP's demand for such reform is nothing new; it has continually raised suspicions that the Kim Dae-jung administration was using the public media, in the name of "media reform," to try to rein in other media that are critical of the government. The difference is that now media reform has become a topic of social interest. It is true that, since President Kim's announcement of media reform, the public media have been criticized for what appears to be biased coverage. The key to media reform is complete independence. With the state owning the biggest share of their stock, have the public media really been able to act independently of government demands? Can they claim with confidence that they have been unbiased observers and critics?
There is doubtless a tactical element in the GNP's claims, too. Nevertheless, the public media should listen to the opposition's demands and conduct a tough self-examination. Are there any problems with their reportage or their programming? Why have they come under suspicion of succumbing to outside pressure? Finding the answers to these questions will help them gain their status as truly free media.