[VIEWPOINT]A bird with two wingsThe biased reporting of the impeachment crisis continues as a simmering controversy. The opposition parties insisted that their political reputations were fatally undermined by the coverage, and the politicians personally visited television stations to complain. The ruling party and the networks in question called that an attempt by the opposition parties to oppress the media. Public opinion is mixed about the media coverage. Those who approve of the impeachment bill in the National Assembly think that the television stations lost their balance by siding with the ruling party. But viewers who were upset by the passage of the bill felt relieved to see the programs and came out into the streets with candles in their hands.
The Korea Broadcasting Commission was given the task of determining whether the television stations had been biased. But it is putting off producing an answer. The delay is not because the commission does not know the answer; in fact, the answer is obvious and the commission knows it only too well. If we were to call an inclination to one side partiality, the broadcast network coverage of the impeachment was, by all means, partial. It is easy to see that the issue of the impeachment has been generally broadcast to Our Open Party’s advantage. But the Korea Broadcasting Committee seems to feel awkward in applying the scientific standard of balance to the programs it carried on the impeachment.
Television producers claim that it is inappropriate to measure the coverage of the impeachment with a scientific yardstick. They say that it was not only ethically correct but also tallied with the mission of the media to side with democracy in a confrontation between democracy and anti-democracy. Also, the producers defended themselves by saying that opinion polls suggested that nearly 70 percent of the citizens were against the impeachment, and that it was indeed proper for the networks to respond to that sentiment. In short, they seem to believe that a little partiality is allowed as long as they stand on the just side.
But defining the situation as a confrontation between democracy and anti-democracy is also controversial. Not every citizen agrees with setting the situation up as that kind of dichotomy. It might be the intention of the advocates of the confrontation scenario, but the theory puts the dishonorable brand of “anti-democracy” on the 30 percent of the citizens who supported the impeachment as well as those lawmakers who voted for the bill. No matter what the Constitutional Court’s decision might be, the meaning of the ruling would be interpreted in the context of the confrontational structure. It is a dangerous idea to seek a justification for partiality from opinion poll results, because it could amplify the tyranny of the majority through the power of the media. If the television stations were to determine their editorial perspectives according to opinion poll results, it is unimaginable what kind of terrible media publicity President Roh Moo-hyun would have gotten while his approval rating was at rock-bottom.
Some say that balance was maintained in society as a whole even if the television stations supported the ruling party in effect, because some conservative newspapers openly sided with opposition parties. That idea reminds us of the insight of professor Rhee Yeung-hui, the author of “A Bird Flies with Two Wings.” When the conservative newspapers with tremendous influence are flapping the right wing, society needs a comparably strong left wing. They expect the state-run television networks to play the role of the left wing, hoping that the country could make a grand flight with two wings.
But what a bird preparing for a flight desperately needs is a healthy body. The power that makes the wings flap comes from strong and reliable muscles in the body. If the government-run television stations become the body and stand at the center, society can set out on a flight with confidence. Even in a moment of turbulence, if state-run television does not lose its balance, we can always soar again. It is undeniable that the newspaper giants constitute a firm right wing. But other newspapers, Internet media and civic organizations are fluttering the left wing as well. Public television are the media that can take the society beyond extreme confrontation and division from the dissonant flapping of the left and the right wings and lead the society to a grand reconciliation and integration.
As we go through the impeachment crisis and the National Assembly election, public television should be able to offer an opportunity for the viewers to learn a spectrum of opinions by embracing both the left and the right wings.
* The writer is a professor of communications at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-cheol