In campaign for airtime, tears grease wheels

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In campaign for airtime, tears grease wheels

Last week was an utter nightmare for both the Grand National Party and KBS. After the historic March 12 impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun, the Grand Nationals were in high spirits, tasting sweet triumph. They had shut their eyes and ears to the candlelight vigils, and their floor leader Hong Sa-duk derided the protesters by saying last week that most of them must be out of work.
Their next target was KBS, the TV network accused of being Roh-friendly by the opposition parties. Chough Soon-hyung, leader of the Millennium Democrats, took the time to deliver a written protest to the KBS studio on Yeouido island.
To show their concern, civic groups cozy with the Grand Nationals smashed TV sets outside the studio. They might as well have given the TV sets to the needy.
The tide soon turned against the Grand Nationals and by Friday, one week after the impeachment, it was the Grand Nationals on bended knee. As the convention to elect a new party boss drew near, GNP was hungry for attention.
Well, they’re smart enough to know that a live TV debate among the candidates is the way to go. But winning the networks’ hearts back wouldn’t be easy. Both KBS and MBC expressed concerns about airing a debate during these sensitive times. In other words, “No.”
SBS, better known for its entertainment programs than serious political drama, wavered at first but in the end sided with the pack.
By now, the Grand Nationals were desperate. “Please, have mercy on us,” the party’s secretary general was quoted as saying when he visited KBS, reportedly adding: “We are now not in the condition to uphold our manners. Just give us guidelines and we’ll follow them. I promise.”
The party’s new spokesperson, Chung Yeo-ok, an ex-KBS reporter, was there as well. Known for her stinging tongue, Ms. Chun demanded to know what it took to get a debate aired, only to be called nosy for not minding her own business.
Eventually, however, their teary appeals paid off. KBS, MBC and then SBS all decided to air a debate. Following KBS’s slot at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, MBC and SBS followed suit on Monday with live discussions among the five candidates.
Even to those without a clue about the profound world of politics (this writer included) it was pretty obvious that the debates provided the Grand Nationals little benefit.
Take the KBS show, where each candidate had a minute to defend his weak points, and another minute to come clean about any lies. These guys, who had rehearsed long and hard, were so glib it was nauseating.
How should a viewer react when a candidate says, “My son always tells me ‘How can I trust your words?’ and that really breaks my heart.” An audience member who had been there for almost two hours began to yawn.
In the next round, the candidates asked their challengers three questions each. Hong Sa-duk, former Grand National floor leader, remained true to his big brother role by permitting the others to speak their minds, which meant mostly attacking Mr. Roh.
When the candidates mumbled, Mr. Hong replied, “Well, other than that, there was always something else that you mentioned. Tell me about it.” They responded by complimenting Mr. Hong, saying stuff like “We are all grateful for your efforts to fix what’s wrong in the Roh government.”
After an hour, I was pinching myself to stay awake. The Grand Nationals were grinning, though. They had gotten their airtime before the convention, and yesterday chose Park Geun-hye, daughter of former President Park Chung Hee, as their new leader.
By now you’re thinking this is a political column, but rest assured, TV reviews will return next week ― if the politicians and the press can muddle along for a week without a gunfight.

by Chun Su-jin
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