Ahead of elections, Saenuri takes on portal news

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Ahead of elections, Saenuri takes on portal news

In the months leading up to next year’s general elections, the ruling party started a campaign to “reform” news services run by major Internet portals, questioning the professionalism and neutrality of the country’s cyberspace giants.

The Saenuri Party said changing how portals handle news will be a key issue for this year’s audit of state affairs. The National Assembly’s audit will start tomorrow, and the ruling party, under the order of Chairman Kim Moo-sung, vowed to scrutinize the nation’s largest web portals, such as Naver and Daum.

“Precious news articles produced by genuine journalists and the media autonomy are being distorted by the power of giant Internet portal sites,” said Rep. Lee Jae-young, who was recently appointed to head the ruling party’s think tank, the Yeouido Institute. Lee made the claim in an interview with KBS radio on Monday.

In the interview, Lee cited a recent report by a team led by Prof. Choi Hyung-woo from the School of Communications at Sogang University titled, “Big data analysis of mobile news main pages of portal sites.” The report was commissioned by the institute.

Choi’s team analyzed the headlines of 50,236 news postings on the main pages of Naver and Daum’s mobile apps from January to June.

The report said both Naver and Daum, the top two portals in Korea, had more content using negative expressions about the Blue House and Park Geun-hye administration than content using positive expressions.

It said negative headlines about the Saenuri Party and government were about 10 times more frequent than negative headlines about the opposition parties. While there were 1,176 articles with negative headlines about the ruling party and government, only 116 headlines had negative headlines about the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), it said.

The report also said Chairman Moon Jae-in of the NPAD was featured on the main pages of the portals more frequently than Saenuri Chairman Kim. While 153 articles on the main pages were about Moon, 101 were about Kim, the report said.

“Portal sites are not media companies, but they are deciding which articles from which media will be put on the main pages and how high they will be positioned in the layouts,” Rep. Lee said. “They are also editing the headlines. This is a de facto act of journalism, and this a serious issue.”

Lee said the portals have no oversight or limits. “To ensure the independence of the media, conglomerates are only allowed to own certain stakes in broadcasters and newspapers,” he said. “But portals are performing the role of the media, and conglomerates own them 100 percent. This is a serious issue.”

Saenuri Chairman Kim, briefed about the issue at a Supreme Council meeting last week, vowed to turn around the situation.

“Portals have absolute influence over society, particularly the young, and it is unacceptable for them to distribute distorted information,” he said.

Kim ordered all lawmakers of the party to pay attention to the issue and support the campaign, noting that the younger generation of teenagers and those in their 20s and 30s do not read paper newspapers. Portals have assumed their role, he said.

“Depending on perspectives, slightly biased news editing is always going to take place, and I don’t want to make an issue out of it,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo on Tuesday. “But the current news services of the portals go beyond bias. They distort information, and the younger generation is accepting that distorted information without a filter.”

He also made clear that the campaign to “reform” the portal sites is not just a one-time agenda, indicating that the ruling party is determined to make the media environment in cyberspace favorable to its candidates ahead of next year’s general elections and the 2017 presidential election.

The Saenuri Party said it is also considering summoning Lee Hae-jin, the chairman of Naver, and Daum Kakao Chairman Kim Bum-soo as witnesses at the upcoming audit to address its concerns.

“We plan to summon them as many times as possible through concerned standing committees such as the National Policy Committee; Security and Public Administration Committee; Science, ICT, Future Planning, Broadcasting and Communications Committee; and Education, Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee,” said Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, head of the ruling party’s strategy and planning.

The opposition NPAD condemned the Saenuri Party’s move.

“The Saenuri Party’s plan to scrutinize the political bias of portal sites is an attempt to tame the portal sites ahead of next year’s general elections,” said Rep. Kim Yung-rok, senior spokesman for the NPAD.

Rep. Jun Byung-hun, a member of the NPAD Supreme Council, also said it was a dirty strategy for the ruling party to pick on the portals. “In fact, it was the opposition party that actually felt discriminated against by the editing of the portal sites,” Jun said. “Until now, the Saenuri Party has been sanguine. Now, it is just trying to scare the portals to create a definitely favorable situation. This is dirty.”

“They oppose calling conglomerate owners as witnesses for the audits,” said Oh Young-sik, another senior NPAD member. “But they want owners of the portals to be hauled before the legislature. This is a double standard.”

BY SER MYO-JA, SEO SEUNG-WOOK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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