[Outlook]New media policy misses the markThe administration is becoming closed fast even though it calls itself a “participatory government” in which the people are the owners of the country. Transparency and access to information are keys to participatory democracy.
The new media policy was made by a unilateral decision instead of with the participation of many, from the presenting of the bill its finalization. In the Cabinet meeting, there was hardly any debate, and the bill was passed based on the president’s words. This administration is usually fond of debating. But what happened to that? The policy is called “a measure to advance the media.” Unlike the title, the policy is an extreme measure to block reporters of newspapers that are critical of the government. Communication between the government and the media will be impeded or disturbed. Thus, it is very likely that the two will clash over every issue and have hostile and tense relations.
Since entering office, the participatory government has had the slogan “healthy, tense ties” when referring to the media, and has worked to correct bad practices. The newspaper law was designed and passed in order to prevent the three major newspapers such as the JoongAng Ilbo, the Chosun Ilbo and the Dong-A Ilbo, from dominating the market and leading public opinion. The government pushed hard for reforms, such as introducing the briefing system and opening press rooms to any registered reporters. But it did not make sense to control newspapers with regulations designed to prevent monopolies. Newspapers are a manufactured product, but at the same time, their major function is to guide public opinion. The law only increased tension between the media and the government over investigations on fair trade and business and tax audits.
The government boasts that since the open briefing system was put into place, the corrupt connections between reporters and government officials have been cut. But a healthy relationship based on mutual understanding has not been formed. The president shouts about keeping the privilege and arrogance of the media in check, and the government files endless pleas objecting to critical news reports with the Press Arbitration Commission, exacerbating the conflict with the media. The president regards “not kneeling down to the media” as a big achievement and feels proud of it, encouraging the battle.
The government and the media tend to distance themselves and keep each other in check. Still they co-exist. Thus, there must be more dialogue and contact between the two to ensure the people’s right to know, and the media’s right to let people know. There must be dialogue to explain the intention of the policy, the background of how the policy was adopted and why the policy had to be adopted, in order to increase the people’s understanding and to make the policy successful. It is hard to explain the background of a policy under the pretext of not going public unless there’s mutual understanding, close relations and trust.
The law regarding publicizing information is nearly useless. Affairs regarding national security are exclusive, so the law is more about protecting secrets. Disputes over publication of information are to be settled by a commission under the prime minister’s office, not by an independent agency. So the commission tends to be pro-government. The extent of the publicizing depends on the authorities’ arbitrary decisions instead of the law. There is no way that information will be publicized immediately to the full extent because there is no culture of openness but instead customs to keep things secret.
The president is paranoid and hostile to the media. He always complains that he has done many good things in office but the achievements were not known to the people because of the media outlets. But the number of so-called critical newspapers is very small.
It is an insult to the people if the president and the government believe that these dailies are responsible for their low approval ratings and bad publicity. The government’s publicity bodies, including the Web site of the Blue House, present explanations when the media criticize the government.
But sometimes, the government acts like it is a media outlet itself. The government should probably think about “advancing” the management of the Web site of the Blue House.
If the administration is participatory in the truest sense, it must improve its insufficient briefings and publicize information instead of unifying press rooms, in order to increase transparency in running state affairs and to make it easy to approach information.
The next administration will then appreciate this as a historic achievement in participatory government.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Byun Sang-keun