[INSIGHT]The Many Meanings of 'Press Reform'

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[INSIGHT]The Many Meanings of 'Press Reform'

We are now living in a strange world where even contemporaries need help understanding words or phrases in the same way. A good example of this is the phrase "press reform," the essence of which must be to correct bad customs and systems in the media.

However, the meaning of "press reform" as employed currently by the government, some civic groups and certain media companies appears to mean demolishing the current newspaper market structure led by the so-called "big three" papers, JoongAng Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo, and replacing it with something they find more cozy.

Coincidentally, the "big three" papers all have single major owners and have adopted a critical stance toward the current regime. The owners of the newspaper companies are now treated as incarnations of the devil. Their names have even become curses. One ruling party lawmaker, Choo Mi-ae, damned a Dong-a reporter for being "just like the owner" of his newspaper! "Press reform" adherents have shown by their actions that the whole "reform" process is aimed at getting rid of large owners and making the companies bow to their wishes.

Like any other system, the existence of sole proprietors at large newspapers and broadcasting companies has both positive and negative sides. If they are found to have attempted to skew the tone of reporting, the press itself should carry out necessary reform measures. If owners' management activities are corrupt, legal actions is called for. But surely the political intentions, which are plain to see in the current press reform movement, are insupportable. Had the moves toward reform been aimed purely at making the press sound and transparent, no serious complaint would have been made.

To people who have worked in the media and who know well the relations between politicians and the press, it is crystal clear that the actions being taken in the name of "press reform" are measures to suppress the "big three" newspapers. Only the ruling camp and would-be beneficiaries of a bound and gagged "big three" are embracing reform, and they have deeply divided and embittered the public. If you look who is talking about press reform, it it clear that the whole idea was hatched by government schemers. After President Kim mentioned "press reform," the big broadcasters aired a number of public debate programs on the subject. But there were no programs where press freedom from government influence and fairness of reporting were on the agenda.

A union member of the Korea Broadcasting System, a state-run broadcasting company, described the battleground of current media reform in a union newsletter. JoongAng, Chosun and Dong-a, he said, are "the conservative privileged press." Public broadcasters such as KBS are "the hunting dog media" of the ruling camp, and those minor media companies supporting government media reform, are the "attendant media." He went on to claim that "the 'hunting dog media' are now claiming to be the front-runners of media reform."

Now "the hunting dog media" and "the attendant media" are behaving as if they are as pure as the driven snow. To me those acts only portray how much they are jostling for favors from the government. They are distorting the press to flatter the politically powerful.

Some civic groups have also strayed far from their duties in this matter. They have confined their attacks to the "big three" newspapers, implying that no other media groups need reform. Their fire has also left pro-government organs strangely unscathed. Fairness is the most important weapon for civic groups. The current activities of our civic groups remind me of the Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. I don't deny that there are some stains in the history of the "big three" newspapers, and that there is need for self-examination and self-reform. But real press reform is not "distorting the press to flatter political power."


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Sioux Lee

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