By Kim Tong-hyung
The country's major newspapers became winners, Friday, of an intense contest over the licenses to operate new cable television stations, an essential part of the Lee Myung-bak government's aspirations to deregulate the media industry.
The Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, Korea's three biggest dailies, and the Maeil Economic Daily, a leading local business newspaper, landed the rights to operate "comprehensive programming" channels, which are to provide original news content on top of entertainment programs, sports broadcasts and documentaries.
Yonhap News, the state-run wire agency, edged four competitors to acquire a license to operate a news-only channel to complement YTN. The Maeil Economic Daily will soon retire MBN, its existing cable news channel, as regulators won't allow the group to operate it along with its new comprehensive programming channel.
The five new cable channels are expected to debut sometime during the latter half of this year.
The Korea Economic Daily and cable industry heavyweight Taekwang Group were the other companies that had been in contention for comprehensive programming channels, while Herald Media, Money Today, Seoul Newspaper and CBS had been in play for the news-only channels.
The winning bids were announced after a week-long review process by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), which formed a panel of 14 experts picked from the fields of broadcasting, economics, business management, law, technology and civic groups.
However, the KCC failed to avoid controversy in the way it handled the media consolidation. Two of the five KCC commissioners picked by the opposition political parties refused to take part in Friday's voting, questioning whether the agency had managed a fair and balanced evaluation process of the candidates.
"We hope that the new media outlets debuting in the New Year will push Korean broadcasting to another level and deliver better content that will allow them to expand internationally and become globally-relevant media companies", said KCC Chairman Choi See-joong in a packed news conference at the agency in Seoul.
"Selecting the new comprehensive programming and specialized news channels has been a crucial and complicated issue for the KCC since it was launched (as the regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications). So it's regrettable that, in the most important moment of the process, there was needless noise generated over the heads of the reviewing panel".
The newspapers have been contesting for the newly-opened television spots since last year, when the government lifted the country's traditional cross-ownership ban that prevented one corporation from owning newspapers and television stations at the same time.
Critics raise concerns that the compromised diversity in the ownership of news organizations could hurt discourse, especially at a time when the line between profit and reporting is becoming blurry in a toughening environment for the print media.
However, the government contends that deregulation is crucial for the growth of the media industry and the emergence of globally-competitive players that could hold their own against international players.
The desperation of the newspapers involved in the television grab pretty much assured that any result would be controversial, and public-relations (PR) conscious government officials are apparently wary about the backlash from media outlets that failed to make the cut.
In attempting to acquire a face of political neutrality, the KCC picked Seoul National University telecommunications expert Lee Byeong-gi to head the review board last month. Lee was one of the five original KCC commissioners appointed by opposition lawmakers, alongside the still-remaining Lee Kyung-ja, before he resigned earlier this year and was replaced by Yang Mun-seok.
However, bringing Lee back into the picture is now looking increasingly like a mistake, as it has been found that he has been working closely with Park Geun-hye, a potential future presidential candidate of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), as one of her policy advisors.
"It's hard to believe the KCC's explanations that it didn't know about Lee's relations with Park", Lee Kyung-ja said before leaving the KCC conference room ahead of the vote.
"The selection of the reviewing committee is clearly the most important factor in which the KCC will be judged over the way it handled the licensing process. So it's regrettable that there were political and ethical issues related to the man picked to head the reviewing committee. I can't take part in a voting process when any decision by the KCC will be suspected of compromised neutrality", she said.
메이저 신문사 종편 싹슬이
치열했던 새 텔레비전채널 사업권경쟁은 메이저 신문사들의 승리로 막을 내렸다.
방송통신위원회는 31일 전체회의를 열고 이 같은 종합편성 방송채널 및 보도전문 방송채널 사업자 선정 결과를 의결한 뒤 공식 발표했다.
종합편성 방송채널에 조선일보, 중앙일보, 동아일보, 매일경제신문이 보도 전문방송채널에는 연합뉴스가 선정되었다.