[Editorial] Don’t damage integrity of public broadcast

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[Editorial] Don’t damage integrity of public broadcast

The Democratic Party (DP) has rubber-stamped a bill to revise the Broadcasting Act provisions on board organization of public broadcasters and naming of their presidents at the Science, ICT, Broadcasting and Communications Committee to directly go to a final vote at the plenary session. The vote in the committee was proceeded without the presence of People Power Party (PPP) lawmakers after filling up the seats with independent lawmakers who used to be DP members. The revised bill bypassed the Legislative and Judiciary Committee chaired by a PPP lawmaker to head to a full vote in the legislature.

The keystone of the contentious revision is to increase the number of board directors at KBS and MBC currently at 11 and nine, respectively, to 21 each. (For comparison, the BBC has 14 board members and NHK has 7 to 10.) Although the DP claims the purpose is to enhance independence and neutrality of public broadcasters, it is suspected of doing the opposite.

The board members are mostly recommended by the National Assembly (five), broadcast industry organizations (six), and academy (six). But the industry organizations like the Korea Producers and Directors Association and media societies are mostly liberal and support the DP. A third union of MBC accused the DP of trying to hand out recommendations to the political groups. Civic group Media Network for Justice also criticizes the move as an attempt to “permanently put public broadcasters under the DP.”

Public broadcasters have always been under the sway of the governing power. They must divorce with political patrons and return to the civilian society. But if the board member recommendation falls in one particular side, bias could deepen. The act could undermine the primary media role of checking the sitting power.

The law may not see the daylight if President Yoon Suk Yeol veto the bill railroaded by the DP. The majority party could come under fire for trying to dominate public broadcasters after fully exploiting them when it was the governing party.

If the DP had really sought genuine broadcast, it should have pursued the version it adopted as its party agenda in 2016. The revision called for the ruling and opposition parties each to recommend board members by the ratio of seven to six and appoint the president of public broadcast companies through more than two thirds of approvals from board members. The version certainly would have helped protect the independence of public broadcasters.

But after president Moon Jae-in took power, the DP threw away the reform outline. Now it wants to fill the board seats with members friendly to the party. The DP must stop an attempt to dominate public broadcasters and damage the foundation of democracy.
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