[INSIGHT]Diversity Ensnares Media Tax Audit Fuss

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[INSIGHT]Diversity Ensnares Media Tax Audit Fuss

Liberal democracy rests on diversity not uniformity. It is a diversity that supports coexistence and the harmony of differences. Likewise, the ideal democratic state is one in which politics is carried out with respect to diversity and where peoples' energy is integrated and then channeled into achieving national goals.

The combination of diversity and integration is the ideal way to reach a liberal democracy. But reality and a country's circumstances have stressed one over the other from time to time. For example, countries may often stress diversity during peaceful times, and then stress integration during a national crisis. But it is all a matter of emphasis, rather than a complete elimination of the one for the other. Or else, it would not be a functioning liberal democracy.

It would be fair to say that the best combination is one of diversity and integration, and the worst would be steering toward forced uniformity, which results in divisiveness among people. Between the two extremes lie several combinations of diversity and integration.

Prior to 1987, when Korean regimes were labeled dictatorships, diversity was discouraged and repressed, while national integration was highly touted. Democratization movement was meant to revive diversity in Korean society and help the country achieve a model democracy.

But what has happened in the years since 1987? True, the June 29th Democratization Declaration, which marks the beginning of electoral democracy in the nation, did increase diversity. Political voices that had been deemed too progressive were now heard, and the labor sector and other minority groups in the nation gained social power. Along with diversification, unfortunately, regionalism rose to the fore, weakening national unity and deepening division.

Regionalism, the cutting confrontation between the Kyongsang and Cholla provinces, emerged publicly at the 1971 presidential election. It deepened with the bloody Kwangju Democratic Movement in the1980s, and erupted at the 1987 presidential elections, thereby settling in as the most decisive factor in determining an election's outcome. The Kim Dae-jung administration's victory in 1997 has not quelled regionalism. Rather, the administration has sharply enhanced regional sentiments.

Regionalism is not the only factor driving divisiveness deeper into an abyss. Diversity has been promoted without similar growth in tolerance, and political machinery has been churning at full speed to make gains amid division. One demonstrative case in point lies with the press and its current situation.

Following on the heels of President Kim's words calling for press reform, the National Tax Service and the Fair Trade Commission conducted a tax audit on 23 national media companies, slapping some 530 billion won worth of back taxes, and fines for anti-trust violations. Last week, the tax agency reported six newspapers, including some of their owners, to the prosecution for tax fraud. The unprecedented tax probe has, surprisingly split the press into broadcast versus newspapers, and even newspapers against newspapers.

Back in the days of the Democratic Republican Party in the 1970s, some 20 publishers of all 26 newspaper companies were forced to support the government sponsored law governing press ethics, while six publishers refused, there was no in-fighting. In fact, the 20 who were forced to support the government silently congratulated their colleagues for their stand, and even those papers directly owned by the government lent their tacit support.

Things are somewhat different today. Newspapers have different editorial lines, and some have conflicts of interest. And the tax audit revealed some allegations that are morally hard to defend. But that doesn't excuse the frantic attack among press companies, some of them even siding with the government, that should instead be thinking about a common front to launch a counterattack against the government which is staging an all-out war against the press.

Even if we put aside the broadcasting stations and several newspapers that are under heavy government influence, why should the newspapers be fighting among themselves? Are they fighting with the myopic outlook that one's unhappiness directly translates into my happiness? Are they sure that they may look back on this time in history, and say that they did the right thing?

Against the dominant clouds of deepening regionalism and division among the press, our society is like that of a fallen domino. A great responsibility lies with politicians who are not stopping to take advantage of a divided public and press to make their own political gains. Some worry that the power of the people, or populism, gaining strength in our society will smother diversity in the nation.

Is our country truly headed toward being the 'good democratic state" where diversity and integration truly coexist? Or are we drifting further away.? It is time that Korean people seriously thought about where we are headed and make judgments.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Seong Byong-wook

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