[Viewpoint]Make way for ‘Big Bang’

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[Viewpoint]Make way for ‘Big Bang’

To cope with the rapidly changing information industry environment, the government established the Broadcasting and Communications Commission, which is comparable to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the British Office of Communications. In addition, President Lee Myung-bak appointed Choi See-joong, a former head of Gallup Korea, as head of the commission.
Notwithstanding the purpose of the commission — to nurture the broadcasting and telecommunications industry as Korea’s growth engine of the future — it now seems to be at the center of a struggle over media hegemony.
The opposition and the governing parties in February agreed on the establishment of the commission — the result of a merger between the Ministry of Information and Communication and the Korea Broadcasting Commission.
From the outset, however, it has met strong opposition from civic groups and opposition party politicians.
It started with opposition to Choi’s appointment.
The commission was established on Feb. 29, but opposition lawmakers delayed Choi’s confirmation hearing for weeks and even objected to complete the report of the hearing; since the hearing was non-binding, President Lee Myung-bak appointed him anyway.
In the meantime, groups such as the National Union of Media Workers and the Korean Broadcasting Workers Union, together with activist civic groups like the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Cultural Action, reacted strongly against the law that places the commission directly under the president, and the appointment of a close confidante of the president as its head.
When the president went ahead with the appointment on March 26, they issued statements in protest and staged rallies in front of the Blue House. The liberals who had control of broadcasting media for the past 10 years are resisting the convergence policy of the new administration.
Although Choi took office last week as chairman of the commission, the struggle over hegemony in Korean media is not over yet. Indeed, it has just begun.
On the surface, it looks like a power struggle in the broadcasting industry between the conservative government and liberal civic groups. But there are much more complicated problems than that.
The convergence between broadcasting and telecommunications is expected to generate a huge new industry in which diverse high value-added products will be created as a result of the convergence between digital content and network technologies.
The problem is that the interested parties in both the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors will take sides.
The group that is more concerned with cultural and media content will give priority to the quality of media, and will cast suspicious eyes at the people guided by market principles. In contrast, the group that emphasizes the importance of technology and industry will try to maximize their industrial goals and put a priority on market efficiency.
As in the case between Internet Protocol TV operators and the three major TV networks, it seems unavoidable that we’ll see a struggle over territorial rights between the forces that support media convergence and others that try to maintain vested interests in broadcasting in this transitional period.
There are no easy answers, including to the question of whether to allow newspaper companies to co-own broadcasting stations. Although the opposition could not find a good counterargument to the cross-ownership of newspapers, broadcasting stations and communications companies in view of the trend of integration of technology and services, the liberal civic groups have taken a firm stand against it. The Korean Broadcasting Workers Union said, “After taking control of the Broadcasting and Communications Commission, the government will allow conglomerates in the communications industry and family-owned major newspaper groups to enter the broadcasting industry and ultimately open Korea’s media market to multinational media companies from abroad.”
It will not be easy to restructure the Korean broadcasting industry: at present there are several public broadcasters while there is only one commercial television channel.
This is because the public discourse on media reform has been dominated by the powerful labor unions of broadcasting stations and liberal civic groups during the past 10 years. As they have also exercised strong influence on the media policies of the previous two administrations, they will resist a reform plan, especially the convergence plan presented by the new government.
The government may also wish to carry out a large-scale personnel reshuffle at KBS and MBC, which had been in the hands of the unions and the liberals for 10 years.
At the center of the issue is the resignation of Jung Yun-joo, the president of KBS. When Ahn Sang-soo, the floor leader of the Grand National Party, demanded the resignation of the heads of government-affiliated organizations appointed by the previous government, most people knew Jung was one of the targets. It is a problem that the head of the government-affiliated broadcasting station does not share the same views as the president. But it will not be easy to force him out before his term expires.
We are living in an age of the revolutionary development of technologies and diversification of media businesses demanding a big change, a “Big-Bang,” in traditional media businesses. The conflicts of interest between industries — newspapers, broadcasting and communications — and unions and civic groups should not delay the implementation of new convergence policies that will combine broadcasting with communications. And they should not obstruct the creation of new convergence services.
The commission should boost Korea’s competitiveness in broadcasting and communications by taking the necessary measures, such as straightening out problems in the existing broadcasting structure and lowering the barriers for new media, including IPTV, to enter the industry. For that to happen, it must raise the status of public broadcasters by enacting a Public Broadcast Law and abolishing various regulations that obstruct the creation of new services through convergence of digital content and network technologies.

* The writer, a former editorial page editor of the JoongAng Daily, is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.

by Park Sung-soo
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