A misguided effort
Jeju FM faced many hurdles. The government allowed the broadcast to be established only in Jeju, claiming the absence of any other usable frequency. Arirang is an English public broadcast organization. It opened in 1998 with a TV channel. It was selected in 2002 to manage the English radio station as well. However, Arirang has recently been like a house of mourning. The Korea Communications Commission announced that it plans to open new radio stations in English and limited their management to local authorities. The commission then announced, “To satisfy the desire for information of foreigners residing in Korea and to further understanding of Korea in the international community, we have decided to open new FM radio stations in English.” It added, “In the Seoul metropolitan, Busan and Gwangju areas, we will select companies to run the stations and launch them in November.”
Arirang, which had even established task forces and invested in equipment, became angry, but the commission counteracted by saying “radio stations in English had nothing to do with Arirang from the beginning, and it was a policy pursued for the public good for local authorities to serve foreigners in their respective regions.” But the problem lies in that the change opens the way for duplication of services and a waste of public funds. Arirang already spends 2 billion won ($1.9 million) annually to run Jeju FM. According to the new policy, there will be three more radio stations in English run with taxpayer money. Arirang claimed, “Just to establish a new FM radio station in English in Seoul, it will cost 6.5 billion won the first year… whereas if we expand Jeju FM to Seoul, we can save 4 to 5 billion won annually.
Nearby Japan, China and Taiwan have one radio station each in English. In most European countries, they have one or two radio stations in English. It is questionable whether we need multiple regional English stations.
Didn’t the new administration once say that we should close some national and public stations funded with taxpayer money because there were too many? If Arirang has been careless, we fix it with extensive restructuring. We wonder where all that pragmatism and efficiency went to.
The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sung-hee [firstname.lastname@example.org]