[Outlook]State-run TV coverage skewedTurnout for the presidential election was 63 percent, the lowest in Korea’s history. People talk about reasons for the low turnout, and a public broadcaster’s coverage of the election campaign was one of the main ones.
A public broadcaster should stay neutral and fair when it comes to politics. But during the presidential campaign, Korea’s state broadcasting company has failed to do so.
Regarding its coverage of the BBK scandal, the biggest campaign issue, and an independent counsel to investigate Lee Myung-bak, the public broadcaster aired the arguments of politicians and Kim Kyung-joon, the BBK culprit, without filtering. Kim’s family was also given its say.
That made it seem like the broadcaster was politically tilted toward a certain candidate. In every election, conspiracy and accusations target leading contenders. This year’s election was not an exception, and the public broadcaster should ask itself whether its excessive coverage of controversy favored a certain candidate.
When the state broadcaster delivers negative news about the campaign, voters think our politicians are preoccupied only with hatred and contempt. People become cynical about politics and lose trust in politicians. This contempt of politics leads to shorter lines at the polls. The public broadcasting company should think about this seriously.
According to studies on presidential elections, the media shapes the way the public understands political events. In the beginning, people have their own views on politics but as time goes by they adopt the opinions most often presented in news coverage or those of media commentators. In particular, a television broadcaster appeals to the emotions of viewers so when they see certain images and hear news repeatedly, they tend to accept what may not be true as the truth.
During a presidential election, people look at the incumbent administration’s way of managing the country and choose the direction they want for the future. Thus, political parties and candidates involved in the presidential election should have focused on delivering their visions, policies and leadership to win voters.
Public television should have taken a leading role in creating ideal election agenda.
It is now certain that the public broadcaster should not be left as it is now, and the people should work together to make it as politically neutral as it should be.
In 2008, diverse media outlets will be combined with digital technology. An institute for integrating television and telecommunication will be launched and Internet protocol TV will be introduced, creating new formats for broadcasting. So, new media policies should be established to suit the future media environment and to integrate diverse broadcasting formats.
Lee Myung-bak, the president-elect, has already stated that as soon as the new administration embarks, a media commission will be launched to draw a blueprint for how the media industry should develop.
Media policies should be changed in ways that ease regulations on starting up a media outlet, allow a business to run a broadcaster and a newspaper at the same time and allow fair competition.
That is, regulations should be eased as much as possible and the media market should be liberalized. In doing so, the broadcasting market will go from being a monopolistic and centralized structure to a competitive one, leading to drastic changes in related businesses, such as TV content and broadcasting equipment.
In the meantime, viewers’ rights should be enhanced and broadcasters’ duties to protect them should be intensified.
It is a duty for a broadcaster to serve the people and this must remain unchanged. To do so, the public broadcaster must be reformed so it remains politically independent and neutral no matter which administration occupies the Blue House.
*The writer is a professor of journalism at Sookmyung Women’s University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Chun-il