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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on May 21)

2014/05/21 07:25

Upgrading broadcasters

Time to discuss improving CEO selection process

KBS is in confusion over allegations that the presidential office exerted influence on the leading public broadcaster's news reporting through Gil Hwan-young, the company's CEO.

On Monday, reporters began to boycott news production, demanding the CEO resign for allegedly damaging the media organization's independence and fairness. Television producers and some news anchors joined the boycott, and mid-level news editors quit their posts.

Two labor unions at the broadcasting company will soon hold separate votes on a strike. KBS had to shorten its prime-time news broadcast from 60 minutes to 20 on Monday night.

True, the picture of Cheong Wa Dae's control of KBS's news coverage, testified to by former newsroom chief Kim Si-gon, is shocking. Gil allegedly asked Kim to play up news on President Park Geun-hye's overseas trips and play down news about the spy agency's intervention in the 2012 presidential election.

If his allegations are true, Park's aides must be held accountable and Gil should step down immediately. It goes without saying that Kim's allegations need to be verified.

More importantly, the latest "KBS turmoil'' is once again a reminder that KBS and other public broadcasters need an improved corporate governance structure to put an end to simmering disputes over the selection of the broadcasters' presidents whenever governments change.

The biggest problem is that the presidential office and the ruling party can appoint the CEO unilaterally under the current system. The result is that the nation has no other alternative but to boil with controversies over the "parachute CEO'' and the ''seizure of broadcasting'' by those in power.

The KBS president is selected by the broadcaster's 11-member board of directors, which consists of seven recommended by the ruling camp and four by opposition parties. As the board can decide on the selection with the consent of the majority, it's possible to pick the CEO with an agreement only among directors recommended by the ruling camp.

The president of MBC, another major public broadcaster, is chosen by the nine-member Foundation for Broadcast Culture, the network's major shareholder, and the selection process is similar to that of KBS.

After President Park and other presidential candidates vowed to revamp the selection process of the public broadcaster's CEOs during the presidential election campaign, the rival parties have discussed the issue for seven months, but to no avail. Only on May 2 this year did the National Assembly pass a broadcasting revision bill obliging a new KBS president to undergo a hearing, but that's not enough.

Public broadcasting companies belong to neither conservatives nor liberals. It's long past time that broadcasters should be routinely marred by chaos and standoffs over the selection of their CEOs.

What's needed is to establish a governance system that makes public broadcasters independent of power, work for the public interest and fairness. Now it's necessary to stop political parties from recommending directors and let journalism and civic experts who are free of political inclinations choose a CEO.

(END)