Korean viewers have long ceased to expect much sense of journalistic mission or politically neutral news delivery by public broadcasters. Case in point: Ineffective and lopsided coverage of the ongoing ferry-sinking tragedy by the Korea Broadcasting System.
None other than KBS's young reporters recently posted writings that lamented the state-run broadcaster's practices:
"While bereaved families were crying out for more effective rescue, we were only conveying the government's messages like parrots," said one reporter. "When will KBS begin to criticize Cheong Wa Dae?" another deplored. "I am afraid of going around the shipwreck site wearing a jumper with the KBS logo," a third confessed.
Under the Broadcasting Law, the government has designated KBS as the main broadcaster in disaster coverage. Yet the nation's largest network was far from demonstrating performances worthy of its title, failing to convey correct and balanced news and even making a gravely false report on the rescue situation, like some other media outlets, confusing rescuers and astounding victims' families.
Airing news on President Park's visit to the port where the families are, for instance, KBS only showed scenes of parents clapping hands on Park's promise to do her best, but not those who wailed and protested fiercely.
Especially egregious was the chief of the KBS newsroom, who enraged bereaved families by underestimating Sewol's casualty, comparing it with annual tolls of traffic accidents. He kept anchors from wearing black dresses, and asked whether KBS should listen to all the complaints of families. It is small surprise then the KBS crew had to withdraw from a joint altar on demands from the infuriated families.
So it was all the more surprising a relevant National Assembly committee chaired by Rep. Han Sun-gyo, one of Park's ardent followers, tabled a bill Friday to raise subscription fee for KBS from about 30,000 won to 50,000 won (from $30 to $50) on a yearly basis, defying protests from opposition lawmakers.
Taxpayers are puzzled as to why they have to help a broadcaster which supports, directly and indirectly, only the president and her government, or increase salaries for its staff, many of whom don't even have fixed duties but are receiving six-digit (in dollars) annual emoluments already.
We know TV viewing charges for NHK and BBC are five to eight times higher than that of KBS. But viewers might be ready to pay such sums ― if, and that's a very, very big if, it operates without ads, and, more importantly, criticizes the president even once in a long while.