‘Broadcast that does its best for the people’. This is a comment that comes out before the start of public broadcasting (P.B) KBS’s “9 o’clock news”. KBS, one of the biggest national broadcasters covers their content production fee to the publics’ license fee as a Public Broadcasting (for short, P.B). However, on March 9, the president’s office posted ‘Improving the method of collecting TV license fees’ through the National Proposal Website. This article raises KBS’s license fee-acquiring method and creates controversy between the ruling party and the opposition party. Recently, a revision to the Broadcasting Act was announced, which ensures Public Broadcasting (like KBS)’s independence and publicity. This Act is controversial because it may encourage political bias. This Cover Story will inform the issues about KBS’s receiving fee and P.B.
Conflict over KBS License Fee Collection
KBS has been collecting license fees as part of the ‘Electricity Bill’ since 1994. Initially, it started with a separate collection, but for increasing the collection rate, it was integrated to improve the influence of public broadcasting and secure financial resources. By the way, the government and the ruling party are showing their willingness to collect TV license fees separately again. The reason is license fee should be an option for channel users and while collecting the electricity fee, the slip-in license fee is an invasion of the right of payment choice.
This issue isn’t new. In 2006, Constitutional Court determined that, "Consumer choice and refusal to pay related to TV license fees, etc. is a violation of the Constitution.” The Constitutional Court ruled that it is a "special levy" imposed regardless of whether or not it was actually watched to cover expenses for a specific public broadcasting business. Also ‘Paying 2,500 won per month is not difficult to user, and the license fee is used for public so that it’s different from usual a subscription fee.’. Receiving fee is maintained at 2,500. The Constitutional Court determined that this act is in the interest of the common good more than invades one’s own interest.
If the license fee is divided into electricity fees as the government and ruling party assert, KBS should cover their finances from advertisement mainly. The license fee is high enough to account for 45% of KBS’s total financial resources. But the remaining ratio is advertisements finance and other countries’ P.B. (like Germany, France, and England) have few advertisements finance, KBS’s finance structure is different from others. This difference suggests that KBS can depend on advertisement finance.
If KBS relies on advertisement finance like private broadcasting, people who can’t pay license fees and face information blind spots wouldn’t be assured of their rights to know. It means that KBS’s responsibility and influence as public broadcasting decreases. Information distribution equally is definitely the role of P.B., if this role disappears, an information gap will occur and socialization such as social problem awareness and political participation of members of society will be difficult.
Conversely, If the license fee is separately collected, people get the right to select channels and choose media freely. KBS is included in the selection area like other New-Media platforms like OTT. In addition, if KBS implements "self-payment of license fees," which only provides content to subscribers, and ensure financial budget, the largest broadcaster in Korea will not be bound by political influence and report only to media users. Nevertheless, it is not known how long it takes to change the financial structure to the subscription system so that the media company can survive only with the subscription fee of viewers without other funds.
The opposition party is protesting the ruling party's claim. The Minjoo Party says, "The Ruling Party has started to pressure public broadcasting using the license fee as a hostage.” Because they think the ruling party's intention to "tame broadcasting" is hidden behind the reasons for guaranteeing viewers' choice or normalizing public broadcasting. They also complained that it is also a problem for the government and the ruling party to discuss the separate collection of license fees without presenting a political countermeasure to the structure of public broadcasting’s financial structure.
If the current method of collection is maintained, many people can fulfill their right to information and participate in smooth social activities. It suggests that socialization of members of society can occur at a similar time due to the timely reception of new information and exposure to new cultures and events. This implies the ability to achieve the original purpose of public broadcasting, which is the realization of welfare through the equal provision of information. Initially, the unique characteristic of public broadcasting, KBS, was its ability to maintain a non-partisan stance by funding itself through the compulsory collection of viewer fees, a form of "mandatory subscription." However, it is now doubtful whether public broadcasting can maintain a value-neutral attitude while also relying on advertising revenue for funding.
As a result, it is difficult to consider KBS as truly politically independent. Recently, TBS (Transportation Broadcasting), which received financial support from the city of Seoul, significantly reduced its financial support, citing "financial independence as the true meaning of independence." Without a sharp alternative, TBS lost its capital and compromised the value of "local public broadcasting" as it had to be mindful of the city government and city council to secure its own survival and appearance fees. With such examples, the separate collection of viewer fees without a proper strategy will only lead to public broadcasting being cautious of the government and the National Assembly.
Broadcasting Act Leads to Conflicts Between the Ruling and Opposing Parties
The conflict over the separate collection of viewer fees has also emerged in the proposed revision of the Broadcasting Act, which includes public broadcasters such as KBS and the Broadcasting Communication Commission. The proposed revision of the Broadcasting Act increases the number of directors on the Public Broadcasting Board from the existing 9-11 members to 21 members, and recommends board members from media-related academic societies, institutions, and organizations in addition to the National Assembly. This expands the authority to form the Public Broadcasting Board beyond the National Assembly to professional organizations and civic groups.
The key points of contention in this proposed revision are the issues that arose during the referral process in the National Assembly and the practical limitation that the involvement of institutions outside the National Assembly would be meaningless if they had political biases. The controversy over political bias remains ongoing, as seen in the selection of the viewers' committee, known as a pro-democracy party, as a recommending body for board members. By the way, there was noise during the process of referring the proposed revision to the National Assembly. This occurred because in the full committee meeting of the standing committee, the "Science, Technology, Information, Broadcasting, and Communication Committee," it was processed as a direct referral with the agreement of 11 Democracy Party members out of a total of 20 members and one former independent member of the Democracy Party, bypassing the full session of the National Assembly to discuss the bill and its amendments. The fact that all members of the ruling party, the People Power Party, were absent from the meeting and the fact that the major opposition party, the Democracy Party, pushed for the direct referral of the proposed revision based on the number of members are problematic.
The People Power Party criticized the move, stating that it "seized the authority to form the Public Broadcasting Board from the National Assembly and handed it over to interest groups, professional organizations, and civic groups dominated by the Democracy party," and strongly criticized it as an "enactment of the 'promotion of media violence law.'" The KBS Labor Union and the semi-public broadcaster MBC Labor Union criticized it as the "law of the Democracy party and the media union's permanent control over public broadcasting." On the other hand, the Democracy Party mentioned that they "legislated the 21-member board, which reflects the representation of professionals in the field and the opinions of academia in a democratic manner," emphasizing that a larger number of members is more democratic. Six media organizations, including the National Union of Journalists under the Democratic Labor Union Federation and the Broadcast Journalists Union, also argued that it is to "abolish the practice of dividing public broadcasting boards among the two major parties and appointing parachuted CEOs, guaranteeing the political independence of public broadcasting."
However, it’s not entirely positive that Democracy Party's actions have established a democratic public broadcasting system. If their intention had been truly for the political independence and democratization of public broadcasting, they could have referred this policy to the National Assembly during the previous government when they were the ruling party. However, they did not do so. Although it is hard to predict, there seems to be no reason for them to have done that. The reason why the forced revision of the Broadcasting Act does not create a positive public opinion for the opposition party is that it was pushed through without considering the views of the opposition.
Ultimately, on April 27th, the proposed revision bill was named by the opposition party as "Public Broadcasting”.
Conflicts of ideology have influenced KBS, Public Broadcasting, and the Broadcasting Act. One of my professors told me, ‘The media is a ‘Small Edition’ of politics’. I entirely agree after experiencing these cases. This means that Public Broadcasting cannot get out from the shadow of politics. In this situation, how do journalists and media users take attitude about media?
Kim Hee-kyung, a research fellow at the Media Future Research Institute, discussed three issues related to public broadcasting: its duties, the composition of the board of directors, and the license fee. Regarding duties, it was pointed out that the role and duties of public broadcasting are not effectively legislated, and there is a difference between the duties designated by viewers and those designated by the government. Regarding the board's composition, it was argued that the involvement of groups with political interests in decision-making leads to practical limitations on public broadcasting.
As a result, it is necessary to consider how the opinions of the ruling party and the opposition party affect our right to know, and it is crucial to actively form public opinion by expressing our own opinions. It is essential to reconsider the role that should be assigned to public broadcasting and take the time to organize our thoughts.
< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >