[VIEWPOINT]Promote balance between media

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[VIEWPOINT]Promote balance between media

According to a survey conducted at the end of last year, the BBC had a public support rating three times higher than that of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet. This means the BBC’s fairness and reliability was fully recognized by the British public.
This level of support suggests many things to us, as it is the result of great efforts on the part of the broadcaster. For example, the BBC, whose financial state is incomparably more stable than that of Korean public broadcasters, announced it would try to rationalize its management by reducing 2,900 employees, a cut of over 10 percent of its total staff of 28,000.
At the time, the Korea Broadcasting System, a public broadcasting network, recorded a deficit of 63.8 billion won ($61.4 million) last year, and finally had to resort to receiving government subsidies. KBS, however, does not need to reduce its employees unconditionally or produce profits through competition with commercial broadcasting companies for viewing rate, since it is a public broadcaster that must put the public interest as its first and foremost priority. But as the broadcaster’s lax management is the cause of its deficit, both it and the government, which gave tax money in subsidies to the poorly-run broadcaster, deserve public criticism.
A few days ago, however, the Korea Broadcasting Commission announced that it would, for the benefit of the nation’s viewing public, allow terrestrial broadcasters to extend their broadcasting time during the day by four hours, which was previously banned.
At a glance, the measure seems to be welcome in that the government, which had blocked the people from enjoying their right to watch television in an act that went beyond the scope of the law, restored it to its proper place.
But upon a slightly closer examination, there are many things here we should doubt. First of all, the problem is whether the extension of the daytime broadcasting hours will provide viewers with a greater range of broadcasting as the commission announced.
At the present, aware of the viewing rate alone, broadcasters focus on entertainment-centered programs during prime-time and have not dealt with the problem of overlapping shows and counter-programming for decades. With the situation being as it is, who could believe that such problems will be improved by extending the broadcasting hours?
Also, the weekend programs that are currently being broadcast during the daytime are mostly hour upon hour of reruns; in this situation, the commission’s explanation that the move will activate outsourcing productions by promoting various other programs is unlikely to convince anyone. On the contrary, the measure is highly likely to increase the number of programs that are imported from foreign countries.
It should also be asked why the commission tried to give this special favor to terrestrial broadcasters only, instead of every broadcaster. The media environment today is fiercely competitive because of the influx of digital technology.
The newspaper industry has been rapidly declining since the emergence of the Internet, and the satellite broadcasting that was implemented by political logic without a socio-economic prediction seems to have a long way to go before it can escape from its accumulated deficit, which runs into the hundreds of billions in won.
Only cable television broadcasting has turned a profit recently, but if terrestrial television broadcasters are allowed to extend their broadcasting hours, other media firms, including the cable television networks, will obviously be delivered a massive blow arising from another great change in the advertising market.
Of course, because terrestrial television broadcasters are the main players in our country’s broadcasting industry, they should be financially stable. Even so, the government should not step forward in favor of any particular media. The basis for media policy in a democratic country should be to promote a balance between the media. Through this balance, a diversity of public opinions can be fostered and democracy can be developed.
Above all, in order to avoid having to hear any longer the arrogant boasts from KBS that it is the best workplace in the Republic of Korea and from Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation that it is the best in the universe, the terrestrial broadcasters should show people that it is engaging in painstaking self-reflection and managerial innovation.
Following the local elections in May of next year, there will be a presidential election in 2007. Some argue that with the two big elections coming up, upon which the fate of the governing party depends, the government is trying to tame the terrestrial broadcasters as part of its carrot-and-stick policy by giving them an extension of their broadcasting time.
I hope this cynical view will turn out to be wrong.

* The writer is a professor of mass communication at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Sung Dong-kyoo
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