IFJ Congress 2001: 34. Reform of Korean Journalism

34. Reform of Korean Journalism
Proposed: Korean Affiliates of the IFJ, KJA and KFPU

The 24th IFJ Congress, meeting in Seoul on June 11th to June 15th, 200, notes that

the Republic of Korea has entered a historically important period of transition with the first horizontal transfer, in 1998, of political power in the history of the Republic of Korea and the opening of the first South-North Korea Summit Meeting in June 2000. The democratization of Korea and the future progress of the South-North Korean reconciliation process, will have significant impact on peace, stability, and prosperity of not only the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia but also the entire world. The role of the Korean press in this process is greatly important.

However, the “media reform controversy,” prompted by the Kim Dae-jung administration, which initiated tax investigations into newspaper and broadcasting companies in the beginning of 2001, has brought about an atmosphere of confrontation not only within the media industry, but also in the body politic and among the general public in Korea. In order for Korean journalism to fully carry out its professional, social, ethical, and historical responsibilities, the current controversy must be resolved in a rational and productive manner.

IFJ has noticed the following problems, past and present, in the Korean media:

· The increase in media freedom since 1987 is a result of struggles by the people for democracy, and not a result derived from struggles by journalists themselves.
· The Korean media companies have neither made a public apology for the wrongs--either intentional or otherwise--they committed under the military dictatorship regimes in the past nor taken any corrective measures to compensate for past wrongs.
· In media reports and comments, the influence of the working journalists is diminishing, while the influence of powerful media-owning families and big business is on the rise.
· Although the government's power of influence over the media has been clearly reduced compared to the past, there is still room for government intervention, particularly through a monopoly over personnel appointment, in broadcasting and other media.
· The Korean newspaper market is defined not by diversity of opinion but by the habitual and wasteful competition for circulation volume. As a result, monopoly and oligopoly by a few conservative newspapers is deepening.
· These conservative newspapers are suspected of attempts at political power grab in the last two presidential elections that took place in the 1990s. There is a concern that these newspapers will continue to indulge in the king-making role in politics, rather than being critics and monitors.

Based on the above understandings, the IFJ believes the following conditions are necessary in order for Korean media to contribute to further democratization in Korea, and to the inter-Korean reconciliation process:

- Preclusion of interference by media owners, large capital, and the government from
media reports and commentary.

- Transparency in Newspaper management to stop the wasteful circulation volume
competition, and the market order in the newspaper business must be normalized.

- A plan for social support of minority media, including local newspapers in particular, to
ensure a diversity of opinion in the marketplace, which is the centerpiece of democracy.

- The IFJ, an international body representing 500,000 working journalists from over 100
countries, has taken a deep interest in the Korean media movement led by Journalists
Association of Korea, Korean Federation of Press Unions, and civil organizations since
1988. In 1991, IFJ sent an investigative mission to Korea and published "the Report on Freedom of Press in Korea." In this report, IFJ had pointed out that securing media independence and increasing professionalism are the two most urgent tasks for Korean journalism, and the prescription is still remains valid.

The IFJ understands that the media reform movement currently in Korea has its roots in media movements led by working journalists and citizens, which, since 1988, have been calling for editorial independence, media's self-rectification, and consumer monitoring programs for the media. The IFJ also understands that the reform movement will contribute to the securing of media independence and increasing professionalism. With these understandings, the IFJ declares as follows:

- Media reform in Korea is an urgent task that cannot be delayed. The IFJ wholeheartedly supports media reform efforts in Korea by conscientious journalists and civil organizations.

- The ultimate subjects of media reform are the journalists themselves. To secure media
independence and increased professionalism, Korean journalists' autonomous and
ceaseless efforts must be a given fact.

- Media reform must proceed fairly without regard to partisan interests but with
appropriate participation of everyone concerned. In this regard, the People's Coalition for
Media Reform (PCMR) proposed, in July 2000, an establishment of Committee for ‘Media
Advancement’ in the National Assembly. The proposed committee can be the optimal
public forum for such participation and proceedings as mentioned above.

- The IFJ expresses support and solidarity to trade unions at public broadcasting companies in Korea for their struggle to achieve broadcasting independence and objectivity during the democratization process in broadcasting, and hopes that the role and contribution of public broadcasting trade unions will further increase in the future.

- The IFJ will remain vigilant against any possible political motives that might underlie Kim Dae-jung administration's media reform measures and urges that tax audits and the Fair Trade Commission investigations of media companies currently underway be carried out transparently and fairly. Also, IFJ urges the Korean government to fully cooperate to secure independence for a number of formerly government-controlled media companies, including Daehan Maeil Shinbo and Yonhap News.

- Some conservative media companies have criticized the current governments' media reform measures as oppression. However, the very fact that they can criticize the government in such a manner is proof that they have press freedom. The IFJ advises these media companies to stop the wasteful war of words and join in the dialogue with other media companies, civil organizations, and media professionals to formulate an agenda for true media reform.

- Currently, the debate on media reform has taken a very complex form where it has become a point of heated controversy between the ruling and the opposition party, between newspaper and broadcasting companies, between newspapers, and between newspaper management and working journalists. Accordingly, the IFJ urges international media organizations to refrain from making decisions and commentary, as some have, based on information provided by the vested interests and engage in efforts for a more balanced evaluation of the situation.