[Viewpoint]Big-picture media reform

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[Viewpoint]Big-picture media reform

The integration of broadcasting and communications is a key part of administrative reform.
In a broader sense, such integration brings about a whole new framework for news outlets, broadcasters and communications service providers, while assuring fair competition.
The United States and other advanced countries have pursued the integration of broadcasting and communications since the latter half of the 1990s. Due to confusion in government policies and conflicts between media outlets, Korea has not been able to achieve progress on the issue for more than a decade.
This situation puts the country’s reputation as an information technology power to shame. News outlets have barriers so high that they cannot even operate cable or satellite broadcast television news channels.
Ground wave broadcasters cannot own cable television stations. Various yardsticks hold back the whole media industry. Domestic media businesses are preoccupied with protecting their turf because of legal restrictions, constraining opportunities to go global.
The United States requires a review and revision of media ownership rules every two to four years. Its Federal Communications Commission recently allowed newspapers and broadcasters to run both businesses in the same community. The White House has supported the media industry’s drive to get more competitive by setting up a global media committee.
Our country tightly restricts the media with newspaper and broadcasting laws. The purpose of the integration of broadcasting and communications is to remove the barriers that prevented newspapers and communications service firms from entering the broadcasting business, and broadcasters from the communications businesses, to create new ground for fair competition.
In this age of media integration, businesses must expand their investments in new technology to survive.
In the domestic communications and television industries, where the costs of technology investment are high, the rate of foreign capital investment has already reached a risky level because the domestic media market is attractive, as shown during the negotiations for a free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States.
We are exclusivist in opening up the market to foreign capital, but Europe is not. European countries are generous in opening their markets to foreign capital, although they are exclusivist with regard to content, advocating cultural sovereignty.
Britain has integrated broadcasting and communications agencies since enacting its communications law in 2003.
Accordingly, the country has completely opened all of the broadcasting stations, except its public broadcasting service, the British Broadcasting Corporation, to foreign business providers.
In Germany, the Kirch Group, the German media conglomerate which boasted having a broadcasting market share at close to 30 percent, was sold to U.S.-based investors. Worldwide, the outlook for the future of the media industry does not seem rosy. How can we then face the huge changes coming in the age of integration of broadcasting and communications?
A presidential secretary of information and media should be placed directly under the president and entrusted with the role of formulating a new framework for the entire media industry, along with the planned “21st-century media committee” mentioned by president-elect Lee Myung-bak.
By creating a strong administrative agency to regulate the newspaper, broadcasting and communications media at the same time, confusion in the policy discussion process can be avoided. Administrative reform should be carried out to integrate the Korean Broadcasting Commission, the Ministry of Information and Communi-cation and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (newspaper, content and advertising) and promote professionalism and efficiency.
Regulations should be eased so communications service providers can make inroads into IP television (Internet TV) and cable television can scale up and enter the telecommunications business quickly.
News channels in the new media broadcasting market should be opened to newspaper businesses, and opportunities should be given for ground wave broadcasters to make inroads into new businesses, including multi-mode service.
Traditional media should be supported so that it can grow in scale and make its content better.
Laws governing the media should be drastically revised to allow simultaneous operation and mergers and acquisitions. Korea has an excessive number of news outlets and broadcasters, earning the moniker “Republic of the Media.”
The media market pie should be bigger. Subscription and license fees of domestic newspapers and broadcasting services are low. Increasing fees is inevitable and various regulations on advertisements should be eased.
The integration of broadcasting and communications should be seen as part of overall media and administrative reform. As the media industry is a new growth engine for the 21st century and an essential national task for culture and technology policy, top-level political determination and social consensus are required.

*The writer is a professor of communications at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Yoon-sik

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