A critical lack of neutrality
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) is a national asset. The public broadcaster employs over 5,000 people and spends 1.4 trillion won ($1.2 billion) a year. Its biggest source of revenue — a whopping 650 billion won — comes from the pockets of family homes paying electricity bills. The income is more or less in the form of tax, as every residential monthly electric bill from the state utility Korea Electric Power Corp. includes 2,500 won for KBS. It is why the public broadcaster must not be privatized. KBS’ kowtowing to the Blue House has been pitiful. The Blue House’s intimidating ways are also shameful.
On June 18, KBS aired an investigative feature highlighting the problems of solar panel proliferation across the nation under the government’s backing of renewable energy. That same week, Yoon Do-han, senior presidential secretary for public communications, criticized the program for bias and misrepresentation implying the Blue House connection to the controversy over the solar panel projects. He demanded a formal apology and correction to the “groundless” report that “did not seek any prior inquiries to the Blue House about such allegations.” Yoon’s comments and demands are illegal and arrogant. The program explored the problems over the spread of solar panels across the nation in diverse aspects.
The producer had an interview with Choi Kyu-sung, former president of the Korean Rural Community Corporation (KRCC) and a former ruling party lawmaker who had been in Moon’s election camp. Choi implied a connection between the agriculture vice minister’s radical deregulation move — which enabled the installation of solar panels over reservoirs under the KRCC’s control — and President Moon Jae-in’s show of approval at the sight of an offshore solar panel field across the Saemangeum reclaimed land across Gunsan, North Jeolla, in October 2018.
The program raised a reasonable suspicion about the Blue House’s potential involvement in the fast easing of regulations on solar panel installation over water. Yoon claimed that KBS had not made any inquiries on such suspicions. But the reporter released text communications with Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung and Blue House press center chief Yoo Song-ha which proved otherwise.
Lee Jung-hyun had been the senior spokesman for former President Park Geun-hye. Lee, in the same position as Yoon at the Blue House, called up the chief editor of KBS newsroom at the time and ordered changes to the news order over the coverage of the Sewol ferry disaster. He was tried and sentenced to one year in jail with a stay of execution for two years. The lower court pronounced him guilty for violating the Broadcasting Act that stipulates noninterference and independence in broadcasting programs. Yoon bypassed the necessary procedure of filing complaints with the Press Arbitration Committee and directly demanded an apology and correction from KBS. He is as guilty as Lee for pressing correction without taking legal procedure.
Yet KBS President Yang Seung-dong kowtowed to illicit demands from the Blue House and demoted newsroom chief Jung Ji-hwan by raising the issue of his posting on an internal bulletin three years ago. As many as 17 former and sitting senior journalists were demoted in a sudden reshuffle on July 2. They were all outspoken critics of the growing power of KBS unionists under the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions after Moon took office.
They filed for a court injunction to nullify the demotion decisions. The internal bulletin board is filled with outrage against the management’s political surrender.
KBS’ politicalization and the influence of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions must not be tolerated. The public that pays for nearly half of the income of KBS must speak up by boycotting TV fees to restore neutrality.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 8, Page 30