[Viewpoint]Beware of portal power

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[Viewpoint]Beware of portal power

I can’t help it. Even though I have been working at a newspaper for 20 years, I envy Internet portals, like Naver and Daum Communications.
News articles printed in the newspaper are the result of desperate competition among hundreds of reporters frequenting the Blue House, government departments, political parties, civic groups, businesses, the prosecutors’ offices and police stations. Of course, overseas correspondents do not sit idle. In the case of the JoongAng Ilbo, editors from each section gather together news materials for the first editorial meeting at 11:00 a.m. But the meeting is far from peaceful. It is like a battlefield. An editor will argue, “Property tax should go on top today,” while another contends, “No way, the president’s remarks should come first.” They get mad, rebuke each other and yell at times.
It may sound exaggerated, but the articles in the morning paper are tantamount to the blood and sweat of reporters.
But these hard-gained articles are sold cheap to Internet portals. Some people point out that only portal businesses profit as a consequence of the excessive competition between newspapers.
This is painful all the more because it is true. I fully understand the sorrow of small businesses that cannot help but provide goods and services for monopolistic large companies.
Internet portals even go so far as to change the titles of articles provided by newspapers without any permission.
They increase the number of hits and make money by making the articles more sensational and provocative. To make matters worse, newspapers were delivered a further blow when the Roh Moo-hyun administration came to power. Reporters were made fun of by the president and restricted by the Newspaper Law. The three major daily newspapers -- JoongAng, Chosun and Dong-A -- became targets for all kinds of restrictions because their market share exceeded 60 percent. But Internet portal services that exceed 80 to 90 percent market share have been happily prosperous. Perhaps, the Roh administration may have been pleased to check the power of newspapers with the portal services. In this process, the Republic of Korea has become the “Internet portal kingdom.”
Let’s take as an example a leading Internet portal. When a computer is turned on in the morning, that portal appears on the initial screen. Both an email address and a blog are served from the same portal. We can see all the news items from that portal and check others’ interests as we read the ranking of real-time news searches. Homework and studying can be also done with the help of the portal. Not a few people stay with the same portal until they go to bed.
Viewed in one way, the world has become really convenient. But for some reason, I am reminded of “1984” by George Orwell. Portal services are dreadful. It makes it all the more scary to think that’s we have this year.
Here are some quizzes for you.
First, do Internet portal services convey only the articles printed by newspapers and are they politically neutral? Second, do they accurately reflect public opinion given their great number of online users? Third, do people gain in-depth knowledge from this paradise of information? Fourth, are portal services fair? Others may have their opinions, but answer to all these questions is “No.”
First, in the mayoral elections for the city of Seoul last year, the campaigns for the Grand National Party’s candidate, Oh Se-hoon, were concentrated on portal “A” and the Uri candidate, Kang Geum-sil, on portal “B.” Why?
Second, less than one percent of the Internet portal users post more than 50 percent of the comments on the sites. How can this reflect public opinion properly?
Third, a professor of mass communication and an advocate of the Internet gave up on his experiment to read only portals instead of newspapers for a month last year. The reason was that he could not identify the really important issues. An expert on opinion polling expressed his concern over the possible manipulation of public opinion in the presidential elections, saying, “When I searched a particular candidate on the portals in the elections for the local governments last year, only negative responses popped up.”
Monopolies always damage consumers. This holds true for both information and commercial goods. Thus, let’s think of the responsibilities the portal services have as they continue to grow. It would be dangerous if these become “dinosaur portals.”

* The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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