[OUTLOOK]Media reform: Think it outOur Open Party and the Democratic Labor Party have started to rattle their sabers in the name of “media reform,” as expected. The focus of these “reforms” is on limiting the percentage of a newspaper that one person or group could own.
Such a bill could not have passed in the 16th National Assembly, when the opposition formed the majority. But with Our Open Party leading and the Democratic Labor Party supporting, they could very well succeed in passing this proposal. The two parties are paying no attention to advice that such a law could be unconstitutional.
If it is absolutely necessary for democracy to broaden the ownership of newspapers, so be it. But in order to do so, there is one condition that should be met.
Limiting the ownership shares will be justified only when the diversity of opinion is seriously infringed because a particular media monopolizes the public opinion. If there is clear evidence that the conservative newspapers of our country are monopolizing the media, then the freedom of newspaper owners could be limited to guarantee the basic principle of democracy, diversity of opinions.
However, there is no evidence that conservative newspapers are monopolizing the public opinon or oppressing diversity. There are many media in our society that express liberal opinions.
In fact, many broadcast and internet media companies that criticize the conservative newspapers from a liberal point of view have exceed those conservative newspapers in influence. In the recent legislative elections, the conservative newspapers implicitly supported the Grand National Party while the progressive ones supported Our Open Party and the Democratic Labor Party.
The results of the elections were that the Grand Nationals got 36 percent of the votes while Our Open Party and the Democratic Labor Party together received 51 percent. Conservative newspapers were dismayed to find themselves as a minority medium in their influence on public opinion and political standing.
As the election results show, the number of liberal voters, who supported Our Open Party and the Democratic Labor Party, has reached 10 million. In other words, progressive newspapers have over 10 million readers and potential subscribers. Moreover, a great number of liberal figures have joined the new National Assembly, giving progressive newspapers the advantage of having plenty of sources to provide them with high-quality information.
If conservative newspapers are in a quandary, the progressive newspapers know that an opportunity has arrived for them. If the monopolistic market share of conservative newspapers is indeed a problem, the solution is simple. Make higher quality progressive newspapers and encourage more readers to subscribe to them. The conditions are ripe.
Why would voters of a progressive leaning refuse to read progressive newspapers? Surely progressive readers with a firm idea of their political orientation would not shun good-quality progressive newspapers just because conservative newspapers offered better gifts and incentives to subscribers.
The focus of media reform should be on providing a basis for conservative and progressive newspapers to compete fairly, not only in content but in quality. Progressive newspapers should not be happy just that regulations are being tightened on conservative newspapers. They must try to provide better quality news and compete fairly with the conservative newspapers.
If media reform is seen as a political ploy to strengthen liberals’ political base by weakening that of the opposition, we will have to kiss goodbye the vision of “co-existence politics.”
If the reforms target only certain conservative newspapers, they would lose all legitimacy and trigger fierce political resistance. Many viewers are already complaining about the biased way state-owned broadcasters are presenting the news. The forces that are pursuing media reform should heed the advice that they should uphold the independence and fairness of state-owned broadcasters.
Our Open Party has announced that it is examining a bill to limit the percentage of any single owner of newspapers with a market share of more than 15 percent. They are not presenting any rational reason why they’ve chosen 15 percent as the line. Probably, they just wanted to see the reaction of the public.
What would be their reaction if we suggest that we should take similar action against broadcasting companies that telecast news and current affairs programs and have over 15 percent of the audience?
* The writer is a professor of journalism studies at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Young-chul