[Viewpoint]Media reform needed
The past six months have been chaotic.
The broadcast media was in the middle of an ideological conflict and social division that put the entire society in a state of confusion.
The controversy over the MBC-TV program, “PD Diary,” which created an uproar over mad cow disease, the dismissal of former KBS president, Jung Yun-joo, and the reaction against the appointment of a new YTN head are still ongoing.
In a democratic country with a per capita income of $20,000, why is the government - which is voted to power through an election - in conflict with broadcasters on each and every issue? When will the confusion and crisis surrounding broadcasters end?
It is difficult to say that the conflicts we witness now are not related to the history of broadcasting that has failed to maintain independence and changed with each change of administration.
Government control and commercialism became deep-rooted evils of Korean broadcasting over all the periods of Japanese and U.S. military rules, the Liberal Party government under Syngman Rhee and the developmental dictatorship under Park Chung Hee.
There is no need to recall the depressing situation in the 1980s, which was represented by the merger and abolition of broadcasting stations and the evening news that started with an item related to the president, Chun Doo Hwan.
From the later half of the 1980s to the 1990s, a public broadcasting system that allowed commercial broadcasters along with public broadcasters was proposed, but the general evaluation was that broadcasters at that time had failed to reach neither the public nor the commercial goals.
Rather, it had caused such problems as spreading sensational commercialism and running new broadcast businesses to the ground.
There is probably no one who thinks that the power oriented tendency of broadcasting companies has changed in the 2000s.
The power was transferred to the progressive left-wing forces.
That was all.
Jung Yun-joo was an example of a biased appointment - the product of collusion between those in power and those in broadcasting. He confronted the conservative political forces on each and every issue during the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
In the meantime, such controversial issues as the move to abolish the KBS television license fee, the proposal to enact a law for the establishment of a national broadcaster and the broadcasting of Roh’s impeachment started to surface.
Needless to say, the political inclination of broadcasters was a hot topic of debate during the last presidential election. The conflict between the Lee Myung-bak administration and broadcasters is just the continuation of an old grudge.
Conflict between the government and broadcasters should not always be seen as a negative factor - a tense relationship exists between the government and the press in any society.
Of course, we cannot lay the blame of the conflict or attribute responsibility to one side.
The reshuffle of the management of broadcasting stations who were appointed by the previous administration could be seen as unreasonable interference in broadcasting at first glance, but it is also an unavoidable measure to clean up ideologically biased appointees and bleach the color of cronyism in broadcasting.
Debates and regulations on broadcasting can appear to be an intrusion on journalism, but it is also meaningful that it calls those responsible to account for the social responsibility of the misuse of broadcasting through privatization.
The problem is not the existence of conflict itself, but that it appears to be so dangerous as to cut off everything in our society.
In the past few months, we have had a vivid experience of extreme conflict between the government and broadcasters that lead to a crisis which shook the entire society.
The people are concerned about the extremists of both sides as they have gone over the stage of holding one side accountable.
In this respect, the position of the majority of KBS employees, who accepted government intervention to replace Jung Yun-joo with a neutral figure from within KBS, is worth paying attention to.
People should also take note of the decision taken by the management of MBC to apologize to the people despite opposition from hard-liners.
There is probably no one who interprets their efforts to save broadcasting, and prevent social division at the same time, as caving in to government power.
In a situation where the wounds from past conflicts are still healing, the Korea Communications Commission announced last week, through a report to the president, media industry deregulation policies to allow the participation of large business corporations and newspaper companies in the broadcasting businesses.
We can no longer delay replacing the obsolete structural restrictions of 20th century media laws with advanced regulations corresponding to the age of digital media in the 21st century.
However, will a follow-up discussion that can elaborate on these matters be possible at this point?
I am concerned because this would lead to an extreme confrontation between the government and broadcasters again and give the people more reasons to worry again.
I look forward to seeing both the government and the broadcasters display maturity on the issue of revising media industry regulations.
The writer is a professor of communication and information at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Yoon Seok-min