[OUTLOOK]Public media must cater to public

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[OUTLOOK]Public media must cater to public

Korea’s media outlets cover little about international affairs compared to the world’s leading economies with great trade volumes or other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
While reading or watching Korea’s media outlets, it is hard to feel that this is the era of globalization. However, this does not necessarily mean that our media outlets cover domestic matters thoroughly and deeply either.
Television stations, particularly the major state-run stations, do not seem to understand the historic meaning of local autonomy.
Television news programs of state-run stations cover mostly domestic news items with a focus on Seoul and from the perspective of Seoul. Most television news programs, including the evening news programs, start with major news items which are seen from the perspective of people in the capital.
Local news items produced in areas other than Seoul may or may not appear at the end of news programs.
In advanced countries with a deep-rooted history and tradition of local autonomy, local news items come first, before domestic news and world news, most of the time.
I do believe that our broadcasting companies have adequate technology to change the order of news items freely as they wish, if they only want to.
This is not the only example of state-run television stations’ news programs ignoring the trend of localization.
Let’s take a weather forecast as an example. Viewers living in Gangwon province must see the weather forecast for Seoul, Gyeonggi province, Chungcheong province, Jeolla province, Jeju island and Gyeongsang province before they get to know about the weather in their region.
It is unfair that they have to wait for so long before they hear the news they want to hear the most.
There is another question regarding the order of regions that appear on weather forecasts. I do not understand why the cities and regions featured on the weather forecast start from Seoul and go counter-clockwise. Is it a problem to go the customary clockwise direction?
More regrettably, our state-run television stations have a weak understanding of the importance and need for local news.
On most television news programs, local news items are treated as the same as, or even less important than, sports news, celebrity gossip, stock market reports and weather forecasts.
Local news by the local regions for the local regions can hardly find a foothold on the state-run television station programs. This is because those broadcasting companies do not understand that local regions are the centers of life in this era of localization.
The more essential problem goes beyond the editing or order of news items.
Throughout all programs, local news items are viewed as subordinate and Seoul is viewed as the center of everything in Korea.
On news programs, local regions are identified by their “hometowns.” Local regions are considered objects of nostalgia and places to “return to,” instead of places where people actually live.
On some programs, local regions are introduced or promoted as places that have well-known or unique food items or where we can visit to have fun or relax.
On television programs, local communities’ independence and unique natures have long been lost. Local regions are only presented as places where people living in the metropolitan Seoul area “return” to eat, drink and relax while being snobbish. As a result, the lives of local residents become objects to look at or for consumption by Seoulites. For that matter, there are few news items dealing with local Seoul news either.
The administration underlines the balanced development of local areas more than any former administration did. However, the state-run television stations that have been riding on the back of centralized power do not seem to want to change even a little to adjust their policies toward that of the government.
The state-run television stations have notoriously transformed their priorities or characters to please incumbent administrations in the past.
This time, they should synchronize their policy with the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s policy for balanced development of local regions. If not, there is a need to debate whether they use the public frequencies in a fair and balanced way.
While the state-run stations have an enormous influence from the center of Yeouido, if they ignore the government’s localization policy, they can no longer be called public stations.

* The writer is a professor of sociology, graduate school of environmental studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jun Sang-in
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