A violation of political neutrality

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A violation of political neutrality

Despite much controversy, SBS TV aired an intriguing episode of its popular program “Healing Camp” last night.

During the 70-minute talk show, Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, appeared to chat with three hosts from the entertainment world about his thoughts against the backdrop of the presidential election in December. The broadcast will likely be remembered as a violation of the principle of political neutrality, regardless of its intent.

A presidential election is the most sensitive of political decision-making processes, and television is probably the medium that can most affect the process. That’s why it should take objectivity, neutrality and fairness into account when airing programs related to politics.

Terrestrial networks, in particular, should respect their obligation to the public interest because they use a public resource: the airwaves.

Of course, it could be too rash to argue that SBS’s airing of the episode was illegal. Media law mandates only that broadcasts involving presidential candidates be restricted from within 90 days of an election. Moreover, one can hardly find fault with airing of the show as Ahn has not announced his bid for president.

In reality, however, the broadcast has raised concerns over fairness, or the lack thereof. The production staff refused requests by presidential candidates Sohn Hak-kyu and Kim Moon-soo to appear on the show, saying they would not “bring politicians on the show” after the controversy that ensued after inviting Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye and DUP candidate Moon Jae-in on the show.

But SBS ate its words with Ahn.

More importantly, Ahn is widely regarded as a de facto presidential candidate. His appearance on the show less than a week after publishing a book full of commitments a president should consider could easily be seen as an elaborate promotion strategy. Despite SBS’s pledge to dismiss political consideration, it has contributed to Ahn’s campaign for president.

Whether it be an entertainment or news program, political broadcasts play a critical role in an election season by providing voters with necessary information and drawing attention to a particular candidate. But the moment a terrestrial network loses a sense of objectivity, it all produces adverse effects. This latest episode should be a lesson for other networks.
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