[Viewpoint] Leftists defend a dictator’s legacy

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[Viewpoint] Leftists defend a dictator’s legacy

The key points contained in the report on the 1980 media merger released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are already well known. The general public read and heard about it through television and newspapers in 1988, when the fifth National Assembly hearing was held. Newspapers and broadcasting companies exposed the unjust measures taken by authorities through a series of investigations.

It did not end there. The Past History Investigation Committee of the Ministry of National Defense announced the results of an investigation into the press regulations of the military regime in October 2007, and the vast “truth committee report” announced by the National Intelligence Service Committee for Development Through Investigation of the Past included a “media and labor chapter” with many suspicions. In other words, the mergers of 1980 were an illegitimate act of violence by power. It was a measure taken by the new military regime to prevent criticism of power by changing the media structure. This cannot be denied now.

There is another reason we should take an interest in the recent announcement by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We should not stop at revealing the faults of the past and repeatedly exposing shameful scars, but use it as a stepping stone to learn for the future and pursue a media policy. It is time to interpret problems of the past with a future-oriented attitude, adopting the perspective that international competition in the media industry and the problem of balanced development between different forms of media are important national social issues.

The media environment has changed drastically during the 30 years that have passed since the artificial, forced media restructuring. Examples include the increased influence of broadcast media, technological developments that break down the walls between newspapers and broadcasting, and the introduction of personal computers and the power of the Internet, which connects people in all corners of the global village. It is an unprecedentedly rapid and shocking revolution in the history of the human race.

At the time of the merger, newspapers had absolute influence over information distribution and crafting public opinion. Now, the status of newspapers has been reduced to one of many forms of media. In terms of the media industry, too, newspapers were the big fish in a small pond, fighting for domestic market share. But in the 21st century, information is freely distributed everywhere in the world, and large comprehensive media companies are engaged in intense international competition.

The media merger had another side effect for newspapers and broadcasting stations. The wall that obstructed new newspapers from emerging has crumbled entirely since democratization. Obstacles that prevented freedom of distribution have been eliminated. The reality is that there are now criticisms that there are too many newspapers. However, the oligopoly structure of broadcasting has not changed at all, but rather has been strengthened.

The three national broadcasting stations today are deformed dinosaurs that were raised by the oppressive hand of the new military regime. Television broadcasters have oligopolized the transmission signals that belong to the people for 30 years, becoming an uncontrollable power that rules the media market. Broadcasting companies stuck by the previous administration when it introduced market share regulations for newspapers and fully enjoyed the benefits of market domination, shaking the national identity with programs with their leftist tendencies and producing low-class entertainment programs to pursue profits. The forces that favor nullification of the media law are embracing the legacy of the media merger, created by the military regime to control the public. Yet they have the audacity to call themselves guardians of the freedom of the press. This is an anachronistic self-contradiction. Ending the impregnable oligopoly in television broadcasting and opening up the market for competitive development is the road to guaranteeing diversity of public opinion.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a facility based on the law that operates using the national budget. Its work is different from historians researching and revealing the past. They have the same goal of pursuing the future based on the mirror of the past, but while historians must stop at presenting facts, the judgments of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have the weight to affect decisions on policy.

There are two ways to rectify the mistakes of the authorities. The first is compensation for the financial and property losses of the victimized press and individuals. This would be an actual and tangible settlement. The other is systematic and administrative considerations for the victimized press. A method that includes compensation for damages in the past while at the same time pursuing a new broadcasting policy could also be considered.


*The writer is a professor emeritus of media and information at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Chong Chin-sok
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