Media ‘big bang,’ new channels, get a timetable

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Media ‘big bang,’ new channels, get a timetable

The Korea Communications Commission announced yesterday a road map to selecting owners of new television channels, the start of a “media big bang” predicted since the media laws were revised last November.

The revised laws allow newspaper companies and business conglomerates to enter the country’s broadcasting business. Currently, Korea has only three terrestrial broadcasters.

“We will confirm and announce our basic plans by the end of August and start receiving bids and reviewing business proposals submitted by the bidders starting September,” Choi See-joong, KCC head, told reporters yesterday morning.

“The task force we launched late last year has been working in detail on our policy direction, so we are prepared to select operators by year’s end,” he said.

The passage of the revised media bills took a long time - they were first presented to the National Assembly in December 2008 - and provoked public debate and political bickering. Supporters saw the changes as a chance to increase competitiveness in the country’s broadcasting market. Opponents worried that the rich jaebeol and ideological media companies would expand their power through broadcasting.

Even after the new laws passed, the KCC, the country’s communications watchdog, delayed the next crucial steps: announcing policies on who could bid and schedules for selecting operators of the new broadcasting businesses.

Choi presented a road map, or schedule, for how the policies will be proposed (early August), public consultations (mid-August), and when bids will be accepted and winners announced (September through December). So far, the KCC hasn’t said how many new channels or operators will be allowed.

“It’s difficult to say [how many will be selected] at the moment,” said Kim Jun-sang, the task force’s head. “Many factors will be considered like global competitiveness, market size and diversity.”

While yesterday’s announcement lacked key details, applicants can take a cue from the officials’ comments.

KCC has repeatedly emphasized the “ability to create competitive content” and “the potential to become a global media group” as two crucial factors it will be considering.

This also echoes Choi’s comments at a March meeting with newspaper and broadcast editors that “[the reform] is meant to energize the broadcasting industry with competitive content and programming and to foster a Korean media group that can compete in the global market.”

That means the race is on for big newspaper companies reportedly interested, including the JoongAng Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo and Maeil Business Newspaper.

The heat is on the KCC to make sure the process is seen as fair. Choi promised “fairness,” “rationality” and “transparency” in the process.

“Those companies that have prepped well should be able to launch broadcast service within several months of the selection,” said Kim.

By Kim Hyung-eun, Lee Sang-bok []
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