The gist of media reform bills passed by the National Assembly yesterday is to break down barriers dividing media by eliminating the ban on cross-media ownership. Korea had been the sole country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have such a ban. The bills will allow other companies to enter the broadcast market, which has been dominated by terrestrial broadcasters since 1980, when the authoritarian Chun Doo-hwan administration integrated domestic media. This will create new channels, offer the public a wider choice, and eventually bring democracy to broadcasting.
With broadcast technology rapidly evolving, advanced economies are heavily investing in media to foster a new growth engine. As evidenced by the success of Korean dramas in foreign countries, well-made programs can reap huge economic benefits while spreading Korean culture around the world. Media reform will lead to full-fledged competition and a major shift in Korean media by facilitating consolidation between print media and broadcasting.
The Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission will work on follow-up measures and announce selection standards for companies who wish to start comprehensive and news channels. The commission reportedly plans to issue permits for one or two comprehensive and new channels by November. If things go as planned, capital will flow into the media industry, which in turn will create well-paying jobs for young and talented workers.
The breakup of the near monopolistic media system will boost the competitiveness of newscasts and broadcast contents. Losing ground will be broadcasters that distort facts to support certain ideologies and political inclinations and instigate the public with false information. The same goes for broadcasters run by print media. If broadcasters run by print media fail to maintain objectivity and fairness, the public will turn its back on them.
It is unclear whether the reform bills will greatly change the media industry and shatter the domination of territorial broadcasters because the bills were significantly watered down due to long negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties. If necessary, the government should take complementary steps to achieve the reforms original purpose, which is to foster the media industry and provide diverse news to the public.
Some fear that the emergence of new broadcast stations will intensify competition, causing the number of commercial programs to mushroom. The government should tackle this through proper regulations. KBS, which is funded by a TV tax, must set an example for objectivity and fairness. Certain programs that are criticized for portraying immorality should also be changed. For its part, the Korea Communications Standards Commission must strengthen monitoring to foster a sound broadcast environment.
The domestic broadcast market is expected to grow 15.6 percent in the wake of the passage of the media reform bills, according to experts. If the expected benefits to related industries are considered, the estimated generating effect is 2.9 trillion won (2.32 billion U.S. dollars). Hopefully, goodwill competition among domestic broadcasters to produce competitive content will create global media groups.