[OUTLOOK]A 'media-oriented' election awaits

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[OUTLOOK]A 'media-oriented' election awaits

We have less than four months until the presidential election. As in the last presidential election, in 1997, the media are expected to play a big role in influencing the outcome. This is all the more true this year because the National Election Commission has proposed revising the election laws to make this year's election a cost-friendly and easier to supervise "media election."

The commission announced its revised draft on July 28, proposing that the conventional party or candidate rallies, affairs that involve several hundred to thousands of supporters, be abolished. Instead, the commission would publish all candidates' election campaign promises jointly in newspapers, while the state-run television station KBS would increase the number of television speech sessions and campaign advertisements of candidates through its network. And a substantial part of broadcasting expenses would be borne by the government.

If only part of the commission's proposal, if not all, is accepted after some slight readjustments by the political parties and others involved, there is a strong possibility that this election will indeed turn into a media-oriented one. Thus, we must start making thorough preparations to ensure that it will be a fair and efficient media-oriented election.

The most important element in this new election will be the candidates' television debates. Campaign advertisements or media-run speech rallies would pose no difficult problems once the procedures and standards were decided upon, but television debate would require far more complex attention. It is no exaggeration to say that television debate is the one campaign process that influences the voters the most and therefore it should provide a fair chance to properly evaluate the candidates. This means fine-tuning.

The biggest task is to develop a television debate that would fit the characteristics of our culture and politics. In the case of the 1997 election, the election law was revised and a subcommission to supervise television debates was formed barely a month before the election day and inevitably, the American model of debate was applied.

Despite observations that there were several elements to the American-style debate that were not suitable for our culture and political reality, and despite suggestions from experts and civic groups that a standing debate commission should be formed to study the matter of developing our own model of debate, nothing was done about it by the government or television broadcasting companies. The election was over and long out of mind.

Which is how it's continued to be. It is again too late to expect our own proper style of television debate for this year's election. The only thing we can do is to revise and supplement the American-style of debate based on the experience of the last election.

There are plenty of other things to take care of even without such fundamental changes. Decisions need to be made on the details of the debate organization, such as how many people will be invited, whether the debate would be one-on-one or in a group, how long a candidate should be allowed to answer a question, in what way in-depth discussions would be made and what powers should be given to the moderator.

That is not all. Ways to include the opinions and questions of various interest groups and civic movement groups in the debate need to be explored, while the problem of coordinating the debates to be run by several private broadcasters also remains.

A mechanism to estimate by how much the debates are meeting public expectations should also be devised. One major task would be coordinating the interests of KBS and MBC since the two major television broadcasting companies would jointly supervise the official debates.

This is the reason why experts and civic groups have been demanding that a debate commission for the presidential election be set up to discuss these issues. So far, there has been no reaction to these demands. The two broadcasting companies seem complacent.

It is not clear whether this is because they have finished their preparations or if they have no idea about what they need to prepare.

The present election law provides that a debate commission should be formed at least 60 days before election day. We've run out of time to waste now. With such emphasis on a media-oriented election, and the role of television debate in the election, it would only make sense to launch the debate commission in a hurry. And if it is difficult to form one now, we should at least build a research team within the Korea Broadcasters Association and prepare for the television debate.


The writer is vice-president of Hallym University.

by Yu Jae-cheon

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