[VIEWPOINT]For Korea’s future, help newspapers

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[VIEWPOINT]For Korea’s future, help newspapers

The news that U.S. telecom firm Sprint Nextel selected mobile WiMAX, whose technology was developed by Samsung Electronics, for its wireless high-speed Internet infrastructure for millions of subscribers across the United States demonstrates Korea’s potential as an “IT strong country.” The fact that a new telecommunications technology developed by a Korean company will set the standard in the United States, the home ground of information technology, makes me feel proud to be a Korean. It does not stop at making us feel proud of ourselves. As a result of the export of advanced technology, as many as 270,000 new jobs will be created domestically and some 33 trillion won ($32 billion) worth of industrial investment inducements will be created. In short, we have found a gold mine that will support the nation in the coming 10 years.
Besides the WiBro technology, Korea is leading the international market in such fields as thin film transistor liquid crystal digital (TFT-LCD) products, mobile phones and the Internet. In other words, Korea is already equipped with the necessary conditions for the 21st century digital revolution.
But Korea’s laws and government policies are still in the analog era. We have become the prisoners of ideological disputes, instead of promoting the principles of a free market economy and technology development. As a result, we haven’t secured the sufficient conditions to lead the digital revolution.
One example is the integration of broadcasting and communication. Many experts, including Kang Man-suck, a senior researcher at the Korean Broadcasting Institute, said, “As we see in the case of integration of broadcasting and communication, South Korea excels in information technology but it is still a developing country in the fields of media-related systems and government policy.” They say the system and government policy should be streamlined, so they match the changes in the media environment that take place with digital technology development.
In the same vein, it is time to consider allowing co-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations in earnest. At an open forum about the legislation of a newspaper law or revision of the media arbitration law hosted by the Grand National Party recently, some said co-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations should be allowed. The Grand National Party clarified its position: “We are of the opinion that co-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations should be allowed. But newspapers that have less than 20 percent of the market share should not be allowed to have more than 10 percent of the share of a broadcasting station.”
Among the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, no country bans the co-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations as we do. It is because there is a consensus in these countries that the media industry, as well as other industries, should be competitive internationally and media companies can get the advantages of economies of scale through the co-ownership.
For example, the total sales revenue of the New York Times company in 2005 reached $3.4 billion. It was possible because the New York Times company co-owns newspapers and broadcasting stations. The paper manages 18 dailies, nine television stations and two radio broadcasting stations. Through the management of such multiple media outlets, the New York Times’ revenue is 1.5 times larger than that of Korean’s entire newspaper market. The situation is the same with Japan and Germany. Those countries, however, impose certain limits, as a safety device, on the co-ownership of media companies in one area to prevent the monopoly of public opinion.
At the moment, the Korean newspaper industry’s environment is not favorable at all. Most newspapers are on the brink of a crisis due to decreases in advertisement income and drops in readership. And due to the appearance of new media, the realm of the print media is shrinking. In that sense, we support a government policy to help the newspaper industry in crisis, to protect and nurture a variety of public opinion outlets.
But there will be a limit, naturally, in providing direct subsidies to some newspaper companies with the newspaper development fund as the government does nowadays. In one word, it will only result in making things worse later.
The international trend is the integration of newspapers, broadcasting stations, news agencies and the Internet. We cannot go against the trend. If we do, we cannot but fail in the international competition that is getting more intense.
The answer is clear. For the long-term development of the newspaper industry and for the balanced growth of media industry, it is essential to allow co-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations. The new newspaper law should be made in this direction. If we can’t even integrate the analog media, such as newspapers and broadcasting, how can we expect to integrate the digital media?

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik
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