Circular debates

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Circular debates

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A round table existed in the Arthurian legends. King Leodegrance of Camelot gave a round table to his daughter, Lady Guinevere, when she married King Arthur. Up to 150 knights could sit around the table and there was no hierarchical distinction.

A “round table” where participants can freely discuss issues with equal status was later used as a political and economic term. It means a meeting where individuals or states with conflicting interests sit at a round table to deliberate an issue.

When the Liberal Party in Britain split over Ireland’s independence in 1886, a radical, J. Chamberlain, called for a round table, which was held the following year for the first time.

Round tables were held between Britain and India over India’s independence in 1930, and the India-Pakistan Round Table in 1947 decided Pakistan’s partition from India after World War II. In international trade and economy, it is used to refer to multilateral negotiations. The Dillon Round, Uruguay Round, New Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade are prime examples. It means that all issues possible are put on the table for discussion between states. It is a concept that differs from bilateral negotiations where detailed issues are discussed one by one.

The round table has established itself as an academic and conference term that stands for the spirit of discussion and cooperation. It represents compromise where the objective is to arbitrate the participants’ opinions. It also symbolizes the process of reaching a point of agreement and mediation through horizontal free discussion in a conflicting situation.

TV debate programs are gaining in popularity. Not only experts on panels, but also civilians participating in programs are putting forth well-organized arguments.

Watching them is also entertaining. Every time panelists sharply lay out the position they support, we feel a sense of catharsis. The viewers are psychologically cheering on the people who hold the same position as they do. It’s no wonder the programs have not become a forum for solutions, but a place to confirm political strife.

Kang Myung-koo, a professor at Seoul National University, called for a change in TV debate programs in order to mediate social conflicts. “Instead of technically dividing and balancing people and then having them take sides, we need a round table debate culture that seeks to find solutions and measures,” he said.

This not only applies to debate programs. A round table may be needed to represent the spirit of the times as extreme forces collide.


The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yang Sung-hee [shyang@joongang.co.kr]

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