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[Opinion] Debating Values

Posted June. 13, 2004 22:21,   


After a report by the KSJCS (Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies) concluded that television coverage of President Roh Moo-hyun’s impeachment was not impartial, broadcasting company unions, the CCDM (Citizen’s Coalition for Democratic Media), KBC (Korea Broadcasting Commission) and other groups called the report’s fairness into question. In addition, even journalism scholars are joining the dispute. The newspapers placed news of the report on their cover pages, while television stations are busy covering the problems of the report. The KSJCS defended itself by stating that various types of academics tools were used to write the report, while those criticizing the report say that arithmetic fairness is meaningless.

▷The reason why the dispute continues to unravel like the layers of an onion is because both sides have different definitions for the key concepts that form the basis for their logic. For instance, the definition of “fairness” is different for both sides, hence the controversy leads nowhere. Aristotle once taught that to start a debate, the parties involved should first of all know the definition of the concepts of their counterparts. Usually, debates on values such as right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, start with discussing about the definitions for the given topic.

▷As society became more complex and debating techniques improved, 18th Century rhetoricians invented the “policy debate” technique. Ancient Greeks enjoyed discussing static values, but modern era humans do not have that much time to spare. They became more inclined to discuss the direction of policies and concrete methods to achieve them. However, in reality, even policy debates started from value debates. Policy debates will move in circles and go nowhere if participants don’t understand each other’s definitions of key concepts.

▷The dispute over the impartiality of the media’s coverage of the impeachment became a dispute between newspapers and television stations, but the controversy itself is beyond the scope of media. Neither can it be solved academically. That is because the dispute is about two different value systems in our society clashing with each other, without understanding each other’s definitions of concepts. It is difficult for both sides to harmonize, because both sides use different standards to measure each other. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who created the first empire of China, accomplished his feat by standardizing China’s weights and measures. Hence, media reform should start with the press and government, newspapers and broadcasting companies, and major and minor media all sharing a common standard for “fairness.”

Park Sung-hee, Guest Editorialist, Ewha Women’s University Journalism Professor