[VIEWPOINT]KBS must serve public functionMichael Tracy, an American scholar in broadcasting studies, distinguished a public broadcaster from a private broadcaster: “A private broadcaster makes programs to earn money, whereas a public broadcaster receives money to make programs.” Thus, employees at public broadcasters are relatively free from pursuing the maximum interest of their company.
While this is the nature of public broadcasting, Korea Broadcasting System, the key public broadcaster in the Republic of Korea, recorded a 63.8 billion won ($61.3 million) deficit last year. KBS also announced a plan for management innovation in its own way, but the plan only created endless controversy and even people inside the company viewed it as insufficient. Although the broadcaster reshuffled its internal structure and tried to increase its viewer fees, neither attempt seemed to work well, with criticism coming from both within the company and the public. KBS may have had the wrong solution for recovering from their deficit.
Expressing her expectations of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Tessa Jowell, a former British Culture Secretary, said the following: “A public broadcaster has social responsibility for making programs in the interest of the public, based on non-commercial motivation and without an attachment to the viewing rate, serving diverse viewers and at the same time taking into account less privileged persons. Also, a public broadcaster is socially expected to play a role in leading other commercial broadcasters by maintaining high quality and developing creative and innovative programs. The broadcaster is expected to secure independence and fairness not only in news programs but also in the formation of a wide range of programs. It is also expected to guide education properly and provide universal and comprehensive programs that meet all tastes and cultures.” Keeping that in mind, we need to contemplate the fact that recovering the public nature of programs is a shortcut to recovery from the deficit.
We also need to learn from the experience of the Public Broadcasting Service, a broadcaster in the United States, which broke through an extreme management crisis in the early 1980s by reinforcing its programs’ public nature and expanding their diversity. Swept by an argument for reducing the public nature of programs, PBS had previously concentrated its efforts on culture and science programs. As a consequence, the broadcaster came to be criticized for its elitism that satisfied only the needs of a few and resulted in drastically low viewing rates.
To overcome these problems, PBS successfully established a strategy of attracting diverse viewers through the pursuit of program diversity, by strengthening local programs and expanding children’s programs. Unlike PBS in the United States, whose problem was to put too much focus on the public nature of programs, our public broadcaster’s problem is that it shows programs that maximize commercialism on one hand, and are overtly political on the other.
Consider the present situation of our public broadcasting programs. With unknown intention, events to celebrate the restoration of the Cheonggye stream, which drew the attention of so many people, were not aired live by any broadcaster. On the other hand, regarding social issues, they gave the impression of a public broadcaster actively engaged in politics by saying, “Do not force us to keep a mechanical equity.” As our public broadcasters have made excessive entertainment programs, and sensationalism and violence become more serious on them by the day, we have seen cast members get hurt, bitten by animals and even driven to death. Widespread insensitivity to the viewers’ welfare has led to some singers’ exposing their private parts during a live performance and even cost the lives of many people recently.
When he took office in 2003, KBS president Jung Yun-joo said clearly, “I will put all my energy into reinforcing the public nature of programs, even if the viewing rate drops.” The slogan KBS officially advocates is to make “a channel that promotes a sound family environment.” The public broadcasting company also pursues entertainment programs that profess to be a “spiritual greenbelt” and that they say protect people from the sensationalism of commercial broadcasters.
As such, I expect the public broadcaster will bear in mind that recovery and strengthening of a public nature that faithfully serves its original function, be it in entertainment, reports or cultural programs, is the shortcut to survival and making progress in the fiercely competitive broadcasting environment.
* The writer is a professor of communication at Sookmyung Women’s University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Chun-il