[OUTLOOK]Broadcasters are at faultOne of the main functions of public broadcasters is to lead public opinion back to stability by showing a calm reaction when there is a crisis in the country. But the day after the impeachment, KBS television showed for 17 hours scenes of protest rallies on the streets and violent physical skirmishes in the National Assembly when the motion was being passed instead of analyzing the impeachment. MBC television also covered in great detail the uncertainty and confusion caused by the impeachment.
Do our broadcast stations have the crisis communications abilities that would enable them to react appropriately to this unprecedented political situation of the president getting impeached?
It is the basic duty of a broadcasting station to deliver accurate information to the public in a crisis situation so that the people can understand the situation properly. A second function would be to assuage the sense of crisis that the people would be feeling and help to shape public opinion in such ways that would enable the people to recover their calm. However, our broadcasting stations are being criticized for encouraging conflict and uncensored coverage of the impeachment, which is aggravating the shock and confusion the people are feeling.
Many people find the current state of our politics repulsive. When the National Assembly decided to impeach, there had been no democratic procedure or process in which everyone, whether in the majority or the minority, could express their opinions in a free and fair debate, respecting one another and trying to reach a compromise. It is a serious problem that the broadcasting stations are now committing the same mistake as the politicians.
People perceive the direction of public opinion on a socially important issue through the media. People find out whether their own opinions are in the majority or the minority through the coverage of the newspapers and broadcasting stations. Members of society who find themselves opposed to what is portrayed as a dominating majority by the media tend to keep silent. As a result, the opinion of the majority is reinforced and does actually turn into substantial public opinion.
The broadcast coverage of the impeachment seems to be one such case. The spiral of silence theory, one of the theories on the effects of modern political communications, states that newspapers and broadcasts play a powerful role on public opinion and its formation.
Such opinionated coverage by the media causes unilateral opinions to be formed in a diversified society and could eventually result in creating a totalitarian society where the opinions of the minorities are ignored. Rash coverage concentrating on visible actions and opinions and misguiding the people into thinking that piecemeal surveys reflect the opinions of the whole population drive people with different opinions to the outskirts of society, and force them to be silent. The duty of public broadcasting stations is to ensure that all opinions, even those of minorities, are heard, respected and merged into a consensus.
Our politics has long been criticized for being too dramatized. Unfortunately, our broadcasting stations now show a growing tendency to fill their screens with ostentatious or provocative images even when covering politics, for the sake of arousing the people’s emotions rather than informing them objectively of the facts. The broadcast coverage of the impeachment has portrayed the ruling and opposition parties as a dichotomy of good and evil, categorizing all the National Assembly members as either protagonists or antagonists. By dramatizing the physical skirmish and arguments of the politicians, the stations seem to have heighted the sensationalism. News that shows the same scenes every day is no better than a soap opera that promises to be back the next day.
In the Olympic preliminary soccer match held in Teheran a few days ago, Lee Chun-soo scored a goal against the Iranian team. For his “goal ceremony,” the young player took off his shirt to reveal his undershirt with the phrase “Rise up, Korea!” written on it. May our broadcasting stations return to their true positions of giving comfort to our people and helping Korea rise again.
* The writer is a professor of communications at Sookmyung Women’s University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Chun-il