What media reforms?

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What media reforms?

Yang Sung-hee
The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The reputation of the public sector has been seriously damaged by the incumbent government. The Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) scandal confirmed the suspicion that public land development was a means of helping some select government officials feather their own nests. “When lawmakers promise new urban development in their constituencies, LH employees curate projects for them and in return build their political connections. The state-run corporation has long acted as a cheerleading squad for politicians. The method of a so-called ‘just government’ constructing massive apartments with tax revenues has caused a problem,” architect Yoo Hyun-joon observed.

Public broadcasters running on people’s tax payments have a primary duty to serve the public interest. But they have been repeatedly accused of unfairness and bias by promoting the powers that be. Their attitudes shift depending on who takes power. They have willingly surrendered their own political independence. Instead of playing a mediating role and bringing people together, they deepen social conflict. As a result, state-run broadcaster KBS’s proposal to raise TV bills that have stayed unchanged for 40 years has gained scant public support.

The worst example is News Factory, a news program of the Transportation Broadcasting System (TBS) hosted by the extremely liberal pundit Kim Ou-joon. Although the radio station is practically owned by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and runs on taxpayers’ money, the show has been unabashedly left-leaning and pro-government, spreading conspiracy theories nonchalantly. When petitions calling for Kim’s removal from the program on the Blue House webpage attracted more than 340,000 supporters, ruling Democratic Party (DP) officials rushed to defend their most popular mouthpiece. The ruling front willingly became his shield. The podcast Kim ran before moving to the highly paid job at TBS was largely credited with putting the political novice Moon Jae-in on the stage in 2011-2012 through “dramatic epic” storytelling, wrote critic Kim Dae-hoon in his book “Provocateur.”

Kim, the media researcher, claimed Kim Ou-joon and his podcast program Naneum Ggomsuda — meaning “I’m a petty-minded creep” — had been entirely engrossed in mustering DP supporters and did not care for his opponents. The program entirely evolved around politically like-minded figures formed “a political tribe,” the critic argued. Kim Ou-joon floats a theory, leaving people to believe it or not. The ringleader of tribalism has come to dominate the main program of a public radio station — and is being lauded as a “true journalist” by the DP.

The DP has come up with the idea of operating a “public portal site.” Open Democratic Party Rep. Kim Eui-kyeom who used to be a presidential spokesman, claims that current Internet portal operators are joining forces with existing media organizations to sway public opinion. He suggests the government use public funds to establish a public portal site. DP Rep. Kim Nam-kook, a progressive member of the National Assembly, proposed a bill that would allow a state commission to oversee news arrangements on portal sites. The DP is blaming the traditional media and conservative portals for spreading fake news after its crushing defeats in April 7 mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan.

Gyeonggi Province under Gov. Lee Jae-myung is pushing to launch a public radio station like TBS in Seoul. It is out to take over the FM frequency surrendered by Gyeonggi Broadcasting Corp., a radio station that shut down last year. The local council recently passed a bill aimed at setting up a public radio broadcaster, which gives authority over program production and personnel appointments to the governor. The provincial government claims the launch of the public broadcaster is irrelevant to Governor Lee Jae-myung’s bid for the presidency in March election as the new station is to open in May next year. But the radio station could be the next TBS as it is expected to pitch the local government. The frequency of Gyeonggi Broadcasting Corp. will be put up for public tender this month, and public and private operators can bid.

President Moon Jae-in ensured a “public role” through a revamp of the ownership structure of public broadcasters during his campaign. He vowed political independence for broadcasters by ending the deep-rooted tradition of the board members serving for political purposes. But no progress has been made over the last four years. Even the liberal press union that supported Moon criticized the DP of having little interest in “real media reform.” The reform they meant was issuing a number of controversial bills including punitive damage claims for defamation and misrepresentation in media outlets that impair the freedom of speech. Control has been the sole reform tool. The clock has gone backwards.
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