Unfathomable fee hikeNational broadcaster KBS is pressing ahead with a plan to raise its subscription fee. Its board of directors tabled a proposal to push up the subscription fee to 3,840 won ($3.40) from its current 2,500 won. The scheme needs to be approved by not only the board, but also the Korea Communications Commission and the National Assembly. The broadcasting company argues a fee hike is necessary to address its deficit problem.
KBS incurred a loss of 75.9 billion won in 2019 and 58.5 billion won in 2018. Although KBS attributes it to reduced ad income, a bigger fault comes from a lack of effort to overhaul its high-cost, low-efficient structure and adopt to fast changes in the media environment from the surge of digital and mobile platforms. The average salary of 4,700 KBS employees on the payroll exceeds 100 million won. More than half, or 56 percent, are placed in senior positions. The state-run broadcaster is envied as a heavenly workplace thanks to high salaries regardless of employers’ performance.
KBS unveiled a reform plan last year. At the time, it vowed to reduce payroll of 1,000 people by 2023. Of them, however, 900 were retiring anyway as they reached legal retirement age. Without voluntary efforts to fix its oversized and inefficient structure, it does not deserve receiving higher fees from viewers.
The broadcaster also must endeavor to establish political neutrality and fairness in its broadcasting. It has often come under fire for buttering up or indulging the sitting government whether it be conservative or liberal. A state mouthpiece, it has been pro-government under President Moon Jae-in, too. The broadcaster invited Choi Kang-wook to a media critic program although he was a suspect in a case involving the issuance of a false internship certificate to the son of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk for college admission. (Cho was later sentenced to eight months with a two-year suspension).
KBS also reported on a suspicious media prosecution collusion last year without strong grounds. A public broadcaster’s role is shaken if it loses fairness, objectivity and neutrality. It cannot earn confidence from viewers and citizens who have to pay the bills for the public broadcaster.
Before collecting more fees, it must execute bolder reforms first. It must resolve reckless management and restore fairness. Its attempt to raise fees already flopped in 2007, 2011 and 2014 in the face of a strong public protest. The fee hike cannot be justified without its restructuring effort.