KBS rate hike contrary to mission

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KBS rate hike contrary to mission

The board of directors at Korea Broadcasting System, a public entity by law, recently approved a plan to raise the mandatory license fee levied on all households. The increase of the monthly fee to 3,500 won ($3.11) from the current 2,500 won will increase the broadcaster’s annual revenue by 220 billion won. Yet the infusion of revenue will not be accompanied by any restructuring or cost-cutting efforts.

In principle, the need for a hike in the license fee is understandable. The fees were set in 1981 and remained at that level for three decades.

The broadcaster needs funding to prepare for its full transition to digital transmissions in 2012 and to improve viewership in distant areas. To maintain its competitiveness and identity as public broadcaster, it also has to produce quality programs and business initiatives.

The time may have come to talk about bringing the fees to a realistic level. But an action such as that cannot come for free.

First of all, KBS must enhance its public service role and reform its efforts in order to be worthy of public funding.

But its proposal to raise the fees is neither accompanied by a pledge to strengthen its public service role nor included with cost-cutting measures. KBS initially promised to reduce advertising revenue to hone its identity of independence and fairness. But it now says it will maintain ad revenue at current levels.

It doesn’t make sense, considering the broadcaster has been complaining that it put its public service role at risk by running sensational and highly popular dramas and entertainment programs in order to attract viewers and advertisers so it could survive.

But now it is saying it will go on pocketing its sizeable ad revenue on top of the increased revenue from the license fee hike. The broadcaster wants to enjoy the best of both the public and commercial world.

Strictly speaking, the owner of KBS is not the executives but the viewers who have to pay the license fees, which are as obligatory as electricity and tap water fees. The broadcaster may claim to be the voice of the people, but its actions show that it is far from it.

As a public entity, the fee hike plan must pass a review by the government committee on broadcasting and communication as well as a National Assembly subcommittee and a later parliamentary vote.

Somewhere along the line, we must find a way to encourage KBS to stay true to its public-service identity.
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