[EDITORIALS]Government and free mediaAt the National Assembly, Lee Chang-dong, the Culture and Tourism minister emphasized his intention to control the market shares of media companies. “It is not desirable in forming public opinion and stimulating diversity in public thinking if media enjoy an excessively dominant market share,” he explained. But government intervention in the media market will threaten the media’s function to check and criticize government.
Mr. Lee implied that the fair-trade law can be applied to the “top three media” to limit their market share, which he said is a combined 75 percent. If by the top three media he meant top three newspapers, he is greatly mistaken. Their market share by sales revenue is below 40 percent among the nation’s 120 or so papers. Furthermore, market share cannot be precisely measured since most papers have yet to accept the Audit Bureau of Circulation: 75 percent is a baseless number.
Newspapers are private companies, but with a public purpose. It is unacceptable to measure them with a yardstick applied to ordinary companies seeking profit foremost. But even if the same rule is applied, and even if the top three companies held more than 75 percent, the government may intervene only when consumers are disadvantaged or the market is disrupted by a cartel or unfair practice of the top three companies. With no sign of a cartel, intervention looks to us like a design to restructure the market at the government’s discretion.
The minister also said that the government “would be able to support” several newspapers combining their distribution. It seems that the government is going to support such a distribution company with funds set aside for promoting motion pictures, music records and the computer game industry. Combined distribution of newspapers prevents unnecessary expense and is good for the papers’ balance sheets. But papers should resolve the matter, not the government. The government and papers should be neither too close or too distant. Government carrot and government stick are equally venomous to the press.