[Viewpoint]The media union’s hypocrisy
The union of media workers is on strike to protest the government and ruling party’s effort to revise the broadcasting law. While it has the support of the entire industry, the strike is largely the domain of MBC, which is leading the effort. However, viewers can hardly tell that a strike is in place by looking at programs on MBC and the other participating stations.
The strikers are invoking the traditional cause of public good. They claim the proposed media bill is a conspiracy to ultimately transfer broadcasting ownership to big companies and newspapers, which will result in family-owned media giants and an industry dominated by conglomerates.
However, in order for such an extreme scenario to be realized, a series of complicated events must occur. If the situation unfolds as the media union fears, once the revised broadcasting law allows big companies and conservative newspapers to own broadcasting networks, the public broadcasting law, which has not yet been legislated, will threaten MBC’s autonomy.
They anticipate stock in the Foundation for Broadcast Culture, which shares ownership of MBC, being sold to conservative newspapers and big companies, which will privatize the foundation.
After that, the foundation will collude with the conservative administration to dominate broadcasting. While it sounds plausible, anyone who works in the broadcasting industry knows there are many obstacles, legal and political, that must be overcome before this scenario can materialize. For the dreaded changes to occur, it would take a very firm will, to say the least. And even if such a conspiracy were real, whether it could be carried out is questionable.
Moreover, at a time when the broadcasting industry is turning into a high-cost, low-efficiency “red ocean,” it is doubtful that big companies and newspapers will compete to enter the market.
Furthermore, media are rapidly diversifying to include the Internet and other nontraditional forms, so even if some big companies and newspapers enter the broadcasting business, they will not necessarily be able to dominate the market.
Unlike in the ’80s and ’90s, citizens are largely indifferent to the broadcasters’ strike. The atmosphere suggests that media dominance is now virtually impossible.
MBC’s news programs since the beginning of the strike have aired biased and arbitrary positions, illustrating how organizational selfishness can influence the news. It seems the strike will provide citizens with an opportunity to understand the structural problems at MBC and other broadcasters.
People will begin to question if the strike, in the name of public good, really benefits them.
Networks were designated as “publicly owned” to rationalize the distorted broadcasting structure put in place by the military regime in the 1980s. The rhetoric has been used to secure an oligopoly among network broadcasters ever since.
Specifically, it has been used to prevent potential competitors, such as big companies and newspapers, from entering the market. Broadcasters claim the new players would not work for the public good. They say the commercial interests of big businesses will undermine broadcasting independence.
Such an opinion may have some validity, but fears that the public broadcaster KBS and the self-professed public broadcaster MBC will become commercialized ironically illustrate how interested these networks are in protecting themselves, not the public.
Logically, the more intense competition is, the bigger the role protecting public interest should play for the public broadcasters. If MBC is indeed a true public television station, as it claims, it should not criticize the new broadcasting law as an attempt to privatize and take over its station. Instead, it should express its firm will to better realize its purpose - protecting the public good.
Broadcasters must break from the arrogant attitude that their presence alone guarantees what’s best for the public.
If they are more proactive about protecting society’s well-being under their current ownership, the strike can avoid being criticized for only pursuing the interest of the broadcasters themselves.
The writer is a professor of communication at Sun Moon University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Hwang Kuhn