[Viewpoint] Media minnows struggle for air

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[Viewpoint] Media minnows struggle for air

When the negotiation for the free trade agreement with the United States was in its final stages, “PD Diary,” a news magazine program on MBC, aired an episode about the threat of mad cow disease from beef imported from the United States. The sensational allegations in the show stirred viewers, and a high school student suggested a flash rally on a fan site of a pop singer after watching the program. High school girls in school uniforms gathered on the bank of the Cheonggye Stream in the center of Seoul. This mischievous assembly started a tornado that brought about a political crisis.

How did such a small gathering of young high school girls, unlike conventional rallies that are systematically organized by activists, evolve into a full-scale political assembly?

We cannot blame the malicious intention of PD Diary or the earnest impulse of the high school girls. The problem is that the government and the ruling party have contributed to the crisis by ignoring the adverse effects and losses of the free trade agreement. They seemed more obsessed with the overall benefit of various policies and deals and seem to forget, or ignore, the less-than-bright aspects.

We are living in an era when anything less than the very best technology loses its competitive edge in the global market. In order to have competitiveness with enhanced technology, you need to increase investment in research and development. However, with the current high wage levels, R&D investment will shrink, and the Korean economy will reach a limit. Therefore, many of us agree that the Korean labor market needs to become more flexible.

However, when it becomes easier to dismiss employees, the survival of their families becomes instantly threatened. When the social security net is incomplete, workers cannot accept a system that allows easier lay-offs. The ruling party and the government know the reality so well, but they only emphasize flexibility in the labor market while sparing words on consideration for the weak.

In addition, a city needs to be redeveloped constantly. Old and unusable buildings should be torn down and replaced with new ones. When the surrounding environment is gentrified and supplemented with various cultural and leisure spaces, redevelopment will improve the quality of the lives of the residents.

However, to the tenants in the old buildings, redevelopment means a kind of tsunami. Even if they are compensated for their tenancy, they are usually driven away further. As they are pushed out of the city, their return to the newly developed town becomes even more distant.

Those who have seen through the mechanism form a group to hinder redevelopment. However, the government and the ruling party only pay attention to the economic gains from the development but neglect the suffering of those driven away.

Meanwhile, the ruling party-sponsored media act was passed in the National Assembly. Many agree that the law prohibiting a newspaper from operating the broadcasting business needs to be revised since the barriers between media have been blurred thanks to technological advancement. When newspapers get into the broadcasting industry, the demand for jobs will increase. Existing broadcasters burdened with a surplus of manpower can enjoy the effect of restructuring.

Yet, there are significant negative effects when media companies are allowed to have both newspaper and broadcasting businesses. The advertisement market won’t naturally expand with the emergence of new media. When cable broadcasting and satellite broadcasting were launched in Korea, the advertisement budget on the conventional media was redistributed, and the overall advertising market did not grow significantly. When newspapers’ entry into the broadcasting industry leads to the same result, it won’t be easy for new general and specialized news channels to operate independently. And the already struggling local, cable and satellite broadcasters will suffer even more, not to mention the hardship awaiting local newspapers. Meanwhile, the government exaggerates the bright side of the new policy without producing measures to minimize the side effects.

On another tack, Korea needs to sign free trade agreements with more countries to increase exports. The labor market needs to be more flexible to enhance corporate competitiveness. Old shantytowns need to be redeveloped. Newspapers’ broadcasting operation should not be banned by law in an era when barriers between media are being lifted. Nevertheless, the government and the ruling party have to pave a road for the weak. While seeking ways to help newspapers have a “soft” landing in the broadcasting business, the government should help minor media companies survive.

Only then will we have less social friction and make the cycle of development and distribution attainable.

*The writer is a professor of journalism and mass communication at Korea University.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Min-hwan
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