KBS wants it both ways

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KBS wants it both ways

The plan by the Korea Broadcasting System to hike TV subscription fees for households has been shelved by the National Assembly subcommittee on broadcasting and communications. The subcommittee decided against the idea and demanded a new proposal to improve the revenue base of the public broadcasting company by the next assembly session in June.

A raise in TV subscription fees is no different from raising the price of electricity or tap water. It affects all citizens and therefore requires prior consensus from public viewers. Few would approve the public broadcaster’s attempt to raise license fees at the same time it pockets hefty revenues from running TV commercials.

The plan to increase the subscription fee by 1,000 won was proposed by KBS board members supported by the opposition Democratic Party. Yet when the proposal arrived at the legislature, it was the ruling Grand National Party that supported the idea while the Democratic Party opposed it.

The DP feared it would be tarnished by a public controversy if the plan passed the legislature. When both sides started tossing the plan around like a hot potato, it became obvious how bad an idea it was in the first place. Our politicians richly deserve criticism for attempting to rubber-stamp the increase in subscription fees and then ducking from the controversy. Citizens could clearly see the collaboration between the political players and the broadcasting power.

Viewers pay 2,500 won a month for watching the broadcaster, or 30,000 won a year. A 1,000 won increase would translate into a 40 percent hike to 42,000 won a year.

The subscription bill goes to every household. After the hike, KBS could sit back and pocket an extra 210 billion won to 220 billion in annual revenues.

The company promised to reduce commercials and hone its independence and fairness as public broadcaster. If strengthening its role as a public broadcaster was the reason for the hike, we would have no reason to disapprove of it. If more revenues translated into a better performance and more quality programs, we would encourage the idea.

But KBS’s actions have not matched its promises. KBS has no real plan to reduce the number of commercials and hasn’t presented any ideas for reducing the manpower costs that account for 40 percent of its budget.

The broadcaster must realize it cannot get away with trying to get the best out of the public and the commercial world.
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