[Outlook]Using both wings

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[Outlook]Using both wings

There is a common saying that goes, “A bird must use both its left and right wings to fly.” The axiom was the title of a Korean book that a liberal scholar published in 1994. It criticized our society for being excessively right-wing and implied that we needed a more balanced view. Fifteen years after, one wonders if the saying still moves liberal scholars as it did before.

These days, our society lacks balanced ideas, and people spend all their time arguing that their thoughts are the only ones that are right. They flap either their right or left wings, failing to get off the ground. Debates about allowing newspapers and conglomerates into the broadcasting business have revealed some extremely self-centered opinions.

The Grand National Party maintains that as the environment around the press changes, the competitiveness of the broadcasting field must be enhanced.

Meanwhile, the media trade union is calling the GNP’s bill evil and going on strike. The conflict over the competitiveness of the industry and the public interest in broadcasting remains unresolved.

But the two values can co-exist. There are many ways to enhance the industry’s competitiveness without damaging its role as a public service. The only problem is that since media outlets were integrated in 1980 under the authoritarian regime, people have refused to find such ways. Instead, the emphasis is put on the role public broadcasters play in representing the interests of the people. What’s worse is that there are forces who think they are the only ones who can speak for the public and dominate the broadcasting industry.

This is not the case in advanced countries. The United States amended the Communications Act in 1996. Germany made its third agreement on broadcasting in 1997. The United Kingdom amended its Communications Act in 2003. France revised its electronic communications law in 2004. The new acts eased requirements for newspapers or conglomerates to own broadcasting companies.

In Korea, opponents of the amendment of the broadcasting act maintain that allowing newspapers to run broadcasters is not a global trend. This is simply not true. They name the same countries I have just listed as their examples. They say that in Germany, a given broadcaster can’t have more than a 30 percent market share. France also prohibits newspapers, broadcasters and radio stations from taking a dominant share. In the United Kingdom, a newspaper that takes up more than 20 percent of the market is not allowed to have more than a 20 percent share of ITV, a private broadcaster. The U.S. bans companies from running a newspaper and a broadcaster in the same area.

Opponents of the amendment maintain that the global trend is to regulate newspapers that run broadcasting stations more strictly. This is partly correct. But it is wrong to deny that many countries make it easier for newspapers and conglomerates to enter the broadcasting business. As opponents admit, advanced countries allow newspapers and conglomerates to enter the broadcasting industry, and regulate the potentially negative effects.

In Korea, however, they are not allowed to enter the network broadcasting business at all. Proponents of each side only look at a specific set of facts; whether other countries allow newspapers and conglomerates to enter the broadcasting industry or whether these countries strictly regulate the business. They only see what they want to, and interpret situations in a way that best suits their interests.

But the problem can be resolved quite simply. We can accept the arguments of both the proponents and the opponents. That is, to allow newspapers and conglomerates to run broadcasters in principle and strictly regulate the business. The GNP’s bill to amend the media act is aimed at allowing newspapers and conglomerates to run broadcasters. The bill can be passed along with regulations that ensure a variety of public opinions are represented and neutrality is maintained.

As we do this, it will be useful to refer to the regulations of advanced countries. The European broadcasting system, which has state broadcasters at its center, will be more helpful to us than the U.S. model, which is focused on commercial stations. In its 2003 report, the Council of Europe’s consultative panel that was looking into a wide variety of media stated that the most common model in the EU used audience share as a tool to regulate the market.

The GNP’s bill didn’t mention such a regulation. But it could include a rule that limits a given channel’s share of the market to 30 percent and another to regulate a dominant newspaper’s shares of a broadcaster to 25 percent.

Just as a bird uses both its wings to fly, the media will function properly when it pursues both public interests and industry competitiveness. I hope that this year, those who take the time to listen to others will find more satisfaction than those who only want to push their own opinions.

*The writer is a professor of law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Moon Jae-wan
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