[Viewpoint] Media law best option in time of crisis

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[Viewpoint] Media law best option in time of crisis

The BBC, a symbol of public broadcasting for over 80 years, has had an enormous influence on broadcast systems around the world. Korean broadcasting companies have also studied cases related to the BBC, from its operational philosophy of public broadcasting down to specifics such as its program production, and its transition to digital broadcasting.

As broadcasting was deregulated in the late 1980s, however, commercial viability based on stronger competition became more important than the social functions of the public broadcaster.

But as trends changed once again, Britain revised its media law in 1990 for the first time in 45 years.

In 2003, the country enacted a communications law to enhance the competitiveness of its broadcasting in an environment where mergers in broadcasting and communications were rampant.

In step with the changes, the BBC is also strengthening its competitiveness by making the painful decision to restructure and introducing a global business management strategy.

The changes in policy and in the legal system that have been adopted by Germany, France and Japan, among other countries, are more or less the same.

However, these trends still seem far removed from Korea.

As we watch the offensive and defensive battles over the new media law, it seems that Koreans have no interest in finding rational and reasonable alternatives. There are things we must do urgently to accommodate changes in the international media environment, and of course issues that we should be wary of in this process, but neither party is willing to discuss what these are.

The claims of the opposition party, which has framed the media law as evil, have been the only thing setting an agenda for the discussion. The governing party took insufficient effort to persuade the public and help them understand the contents of the new media law.

There were scores of open hearings and seminars held by the National Assembly and academic circles, and the debates and papers presented at these meetings have already produced most of the important points at issue.

Their main point is that as large corporations and newspaper companies advance into broadcasting, the public service and watchdog functions of the press could be weakened, since power over the airwaves would grow more concentrated and broadcasting would be subject to the pressures of big capital.

That is true.

However, the more important point is that we need to find a solution that can strengthen media s public service ability and individual broadcasters commercial competitiveness simultaneously.

The People s Committee for Media Development worked for more than 100 days in an effort to find a solution, but it ended up without a conclusion. Instead, it simply presented the same opinions over and over.

The only result of the committee s meetings has been that the governing party, conscious of the opinion of the opposition that permitting newspapers to advance into broadcasting would play into a hidden agenda to monopolize the media, has presented a revision to the law postponing the transition to digital broadcasting to 2013 and promising to establish its position on the viewer rate limitation system in writing.

The opposition party, which opposed the bill for the sake of opposition, also presented its own draft on July 9.

However, the content of these revisions is a disappointment, and there are no realistic, persuasive measures.

The key point of the Democratic Party s draft is to prohibit the advancement of major corporations and media companies into network television and news channels (they are already unable to do so). Their draft would allow companies with assets of less than 10 trillion won ($7.8 billion) or newspapers with less than a 10 percent market share to invest in comprehensive network channels that include news reporting functions.

How many corporations or newspaper companies that satisfy this standard would be able to expand into the broadcasting industry?

Since investments of hundreds of billions of won have to be made to operate a broadcast channel with news reporting functions, it would be fair to say that the ones that satisfy the above standard would have no such capacity.

Ultimately, this draft is meaningless except that it is an expression of the party s hope to waste the final 10 days of the current special session of the National Assembly.

The environment surrounding the media world is changing by the day. The number of people who prefer to get their news from the Internet instead of newspapers or television is growing constantly.

The cell phones that the majority of people use nowadays are continuously adding new functions, and almost everything, from viewing TV to searching the Internet, can be done on the go.

Under such circumstances, the actions taken against the expansion of broadcasting amount to pushing a media industry that is already in crisis into a corner, based on the vague threat that government could monopolize public opinion and gain control over broadcasting.

We must achieve the task of enhancing the media s public service ability and the competitiveness of the broadcasting industry, like killing two birds with one stone, by passing the media law at the National Assembly. There is simply no other choice.

*The writer is a professor of mass communication studies at Chung-Ang University.

by Sung Dong-kyoo
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