[EDITORIALS]Two Sides to Every TV Story

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[EDITORIALS]Two Sides to Every TV Story

The confrontation between the opposition Grand National Party and MBC, a major television network, is worsening. At the National Assembly, the party denounced MBC as the government's mouthpiece. MBC in return aired critical coverage of the opposition party, saying the network's reputation has been damaged. The dispute will likely go on for some time.

The confrontation between opposition parties and television networks with government ownership shares was at its height during the military dictatorships of the past. While the way the confrontation is being played out and the degree of confrontation is different this time, any type of confrontation between organizations serving the public is not desirable on public interest grounds.

Several days ago, the GNP took issue with the coverage of the revival of stricter press regulations, saying it was not fair. "Public broadcasting stations only emphasized the need for the revival of the regulations as if they were the spokesman of the Fair Trade Commission," said one opposition lawmaker. "Isn't excessive criticism of newspaper companies by government-owned networks an order from above? The public networks are shamelessly supportive of the government and manipulated public opinion."

MBC spent six minutes retorting to the charge during its evening news program on Wednesday. After airing interviews with opposition lawmakers on the Culture and Tourism Committee and MBC's response to them, it denounced the opposition party, saying the party is in cahoots with the "big three" newspapers - the JoongAng Ilbo, the Dong-a Ilbo and the Chosun Ilbo - and that the party's position is not unrelated to its campaign strategy for the next presidential election in 2002.

At a news conference Friday, the Grand National Party said, "Our suspicions that the network is in cahoots with the government in its attempt to seize control over newspaper companies has been proven." It also demanded that MBC air an apology and a correction. The network replied immediately, saying the accusations were groundless and damaging to its reputation.

Television networks' coverage of the revival of stricter press regulations has consistently raised questions of fairness. Despite the regulation's intended purpose of cleaning up business practices in the newspaper industry, many problems with the regulations have been raised by experts. But the broadcast coverage was not balanced and sometimes gave the impression that the broadcasters were taking sides with the government. Even the voices of academics were taken lightly or ignored; many said the regulations are aimed primarily at regulating critical newspapers; they can potentially violate press freedom and they go against market principles. None of this has been properly covered by the networks. Critics have also pointed out that roundtable discussions on network programs only invited members of advocacy groups who are supportive of the government's plan and emphasized the need for the stricter regulations.

We believe the Grand National Party's criticism of MBC was made along those lines. While some lawmakers' expressions were excessive, opposition to unfair coverage is attracting widespread public support. Considering the networks' influence in society, fairness and objectivity are fundamental principles, and are enshrined in the "Evaluation Criteria for Broadcast Programs." The Broadcasting Commission should not regard the confrontation between the Grand National Party and MBC as none of its concern, and hand down a fair ruling on the debate on the fairness of the networks' coverage.
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