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Sensationalism on Cable TV

Posted September. 15, 2010 11:52,   


What does socialite Paris Hilton, who has often appeared in Korean media, do for a living? She is described as an heiress to the Hilton family fortune but heiress is not an occupation. Hilton often works as a model but she is not a professional. She is also not an actress by trade despite having appeared in films. She constantly draws public attention due to her luxurious and licentious lifestyle. Some say global paparazzi would not earn a living without her.

In Korea, Kim Kyung-ah is drawing Hilton-like attention. She surprised viewers by saying the clothes she wore were worth 400 million won (345,000 U.S. dollars) on the program “Tent in the City” aired by the cable TV channel m.net Sept. 7. Her comment that she purchases luxury items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with an allowance from her parents has left the working class frustrated. Internet users have complained about her to the National Tax Service, saying Kim should be subject to a gift tax since she leads a luxurious life with her parents’ money. The tax agency will audit her as part of the incumbent administration’s efforts to establish a “fair society.”

The situation has erupted into a war of words between Kim and the cable channel. She left for Japan after the program aired, and told reporters, “I just read the script as instructed by the broadcaster.” Kim also claimed that m.net presented her as unemployed though she is a professional model and that scriptwriters told her to say her clothes are worth 400 million won (344,000 U.S. dollars). The program’s production team denied her claims, saying, “Kim is beyond our manipulation.”

With terrestrial channels dominating the broadcast industry, cable TV channels have no choice but to carve out niche markets with innovative programs. Shows such as “An In-depth Look at Men and Women,” and “Superstar K” are considered success stories for cable TV in this sense. To attract viewers, they often turn to sensationalism. tvN’s program “Martian Virus” featured last month a woman who went on a one-day trip to Tokyo for lunch at a famous noodle restaurant. The cable TV industry needs self-reflection since the m.net controversy was apparently started by the channel’s desire for higher ratings by featuring a woman addicted to luxurious items.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)