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Does Korea really need KBS?

Posted May. 27, 2014 08:50,   


Excessive sensitivity can be a cause of problems. A female reporter with the information and science desk at Korea Broadcasting System’s newsroom reported to its labor union remarks by its newsroom chief, which compared the number of annual deaths caused by ordinary traffic accidents to the number of deaths from the sunken ferry Sewol. It might be true that the newsroom chief’s statement was ill-advised, but the KBS president went so far as to use him as scapegoat, and forced him to resign for what the newsroom chief said at a private gathering, rather than trying to protect him. The newsroom chief regarded as external pressure the presidential office’s request to KBS to refrain from criticizing the Korea Coast Guard, at a time when the latter was conducting rescue operation at the accident site. They were all overly sensitive to affairs.

Such attitude is not unrelated to the mood at KBS as an organization whose employees suspect whether there are any hidden agendas behind if a senior staff makes certain remarks. People could have different views on the question that the mood at KBS has become so unsympathetic and unfriendly each other due to the previous governments’ attempt to control the media, or to the labor union’s bid to direct administrations in its favor. Whichever side once supports however, one premise is that he or she seeks to share and find solution. This premise suggests that KBS existed before, and must continue to do so in the future as well. However, I have doubt why KBS should continue to exist.

One of a public broadcaster’s main missions is to serve as “broadcaster for disaster prevention and relief.” As evidenced by reporting on the Sewol ferry disaster by the national broadcaster, however, no one will likely feel that he or she could not enjoy people’s guaranteed right to know even without KBS. The same holds true even when taking into consideration the quality of information KBS offered. People could not access better reporting due to the existence of KBS, nor could they access worse reporting due to lack of it.

During the era of broadcasting industry’s development in the past, KBS spearheaded the broadcasting sector as the public broadcaster. But today, KBS no longer has the need to play such roles nor does it have such capability. Private-run broadcasting services such as Seoul Broadcasting System already started, and various cable TV channels catering to diverse fields have emerged, while general programming channels dealing with all different segments have also made debut. Furthermore, people are gaining increasingly more information and entertainment from the Internet and mobile telecom service. Even without KBS, people have little reason to feel inconvenient. Of course, KBS is not the only media outlet that one would find uncomfortable due to non-existence thereof. The same holds true with other media outlets. However, KBS is the only broadcaster to which people are obliged to pay subscription fees just because they have a TV set at home.

I had not realized this while serving as correspondent to different organizations in Korea, but I came to learn about KBS better while working as overseas correspondent. To help cut cost, SBS dispatches its news reporters overseas, but no cameramen. It hires local cameramen. KBS, however, sends a reporter and a cameraman together as its correspondents to many places worldwide. It costs about 300 million won (293,000 U.S. dollars) per year to send a cameraman, including 100 million won (98,000 dollars) of annual salary and living expenses. Despite this, the cameraman’s capacity to speak the local language and knowledge on his or her duty station lags far behind those of SBS’ local cameraman, who is only paid tens of thousands of dollars per year.

An inspection conducted last year by the Board of Audit and Inspection on KBS’ management situation found that of the 382 senior KBS staff with Grade 1 or higher, six out of 10 had no assigned positions. The annual salary of a KBS employee with Grade 1 exceeds 116 million won (113,000 dollars) on average. Despite being paid more than 100,000 dollars yearly, they are deployed to programming review offices, radio centers and transmission relay stations by a number that is more than necessary, and idle away time. We are paying monthly subscription fees without fail to KBS that is highly inefficient at best.

I like several KBS programs. I enjoy classical music shows on KBS FM 1, and educational programs such as ‘Tour of Korea’ on Educational Broadcasting System, whose production and airing is partially funded with the subscription fee paid to KBS. However, there is no reason KBS should serve as the producer and broadcaster of a comedy show such as “Gag Concert.” The segments that the private sector can handle should be boldly handed over to the private sector. Areas that are still left after such segments are transferred to the private sector are the unique scope in which a public broadcaster should play role.

News on a public broadcaster should be dry. News reports on the Japanese public broadcaster NHK is so dry that they hardly sound interesting to watch and listen. As reporters have needlessly become too sensitive in certain aspects and are trying to make news reports wet and emotional, they generate violent sparks and fall into dispute at points that the public can hardly sympathize. This is what ongoing internal conflict at KBS is about.