Who’s afraid of a TV debate?A second TV debate among four presidential candidates — Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), his rival Yoon Suk-yeol from the opposition People Power Party (PPP), Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Power (PP) and Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party (JP) — is being discussed among concerned parties. Party insiders expect the debate to be held on Thursday or Friday instead of Tuesday. The four-way debate is a separate debate from the three rounds of TV debate on February 21 and 25 and March 2, which are mandatory and administered by the National Election Commission.
But unfortunately, negotiations for a second TV debate are going nowhere due to the PPP’s reluctance to accept it after the Journalists Association of Korea (JAK) proposed last week that JTBC, an affiliate of the JoongAng Ilbo, broadcast live the debate on Tuesday. Negotiations for the second TV debate appeared to go smoothly after the four candidates welcomed it in the beginning.
But the negotiation failed after Yoon’s camp attacked the “ideological bias” of JAK, the organizer of the debate. In the lead-up to the botched negotiation, the PPP raised strong suspicion on the fairness of the organizer of the debate. Hwang Sang-moo — a former KBS reporter and current advisor on public relations for Yoon’s campaign — wrote on Facebook, “I stopped the negotiation because we could never meet the requirements.” He attacked the JAK for “overly leaning to the left” and criticized JTBC for being “one of the most leftist channels of comprehensive programming” in Korea. He deleted that comment later.
Hwang based his decision on the past recommendation by JAK that a liberal broadcast journalist be nominated for a proportional seat in a satellite party of the DP in the last parliamentary elections in 2020. (The nominee later became a DP lawmaker.) But that cannot justify the PPP’s refusal to accept a second TV debate. The PPP’s attitude not only lacks rationale but is also arrogant. It could have been better if Hwang had listened to Rep. Sung Il-jong, who said Yoon believed it is right to offer as many chances as possible for the voters to judge presidential candidates. We wonder why the PPP persistently attempts to wage a tug of war over conditions for the debate.
The PPP must keep in mind that many voters want to watch a TV debate among candidates. In the first debate on Thursday, 39 percent of the people watched it, the highest since the 55.7 percent in the 1997 election. The figure represents a strong desire to look into presidential qualifications of the candidates. As the Covid-19 pandemic defies normal campaign activities, presidential candidates must find other effective ways to present their visions to the voters and convince them. No doubt TV debates are one of them.