[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Voters debating who won screen test

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[WHAT’S ON KOREAN TV]Voters debating who won screen test

If the debate televised Wednesday night was a political earthquake, I felt an aftershock yesterday morning while riding the subway to work. On a crowded line No. 1 train, I was standing among many senior citizens. Suddenly an elderly man standing in front of a seated young woman cried out, "Get up, you young lass, how could you be so rude?" After he took the seat, he said, "Well, no wonder she is rude. The world is rotten all over thanks to stupid politicians."

That outburst sparked a noisy debate in the train over who should be the next president. Everyone had apparently watched the debate the night before. People talked to total strangers about how the candidates looked on screen, from their suits to their facial expressions. "I really liked Roh's blue tie," one woman said.

The three major networks were required to broadcast the three presidential debates, which were held Dec. 3, 10 and 16. The networks were closely involved with the organization of the debates. Some people complained about the arrangement. "The association of networks holds almost absolute power over the setup of the TV debates," said Park Woo-zoung, a member of the Broadcasting Journalist Committee.

This year's debates attracted an average of 30 percent of viewers, a sharp drop from the 1997 debates, which pulled 50-percent ratings. Each network managed one debate, choosing the venue and providing the equipment. The three major candidates -- Lee Hoi-chang, Roh Moo-hyun and Kwon Young-ghil -- showed up to discuss politics, foreign policies and reunification on Dec. 3, economy and science on Dec. 10 and women policies, culture and social affairs on Dec. 16.

The networks chose a professor, Yeom Jae-ho, to moderate the debates. Mr. Yeom, who teaches business administration at Korea University, is popular for his intelligence, easy manners and good looks.

Though the general subjects to be debated were known in advance, Mr. Yeom raised the specific questions to really get the debate rolling. The first candidate to respond would speak for either a minute or a minute and a half. Then he would ask another candidate a related question. After each speaker's time was up, the camera turned away from the speaker to a green light. That was a more merciful way to cut off speakers than the one used in 1997, when the organizers just shut off the microphones.

At the first debate, the candidates were rather emotional. But at the last one, they stayed cool.

But the subway riders were still worked up after Monday night, evidently. One old man who was pro-Roh took over the in-car debate. "Did you see the makeup Lee Hoi-chang was wearing?" He said. "That was ridiculous!"

by Chun Su-jin

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