The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Rift over media control

KCC has to restore its role as an independent, consensus-based broadcasting watchdog

By Korea Herald

Published : July 5, 2024 - 05:30

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The Korea Communications Commission has gone through a fast-paced reshuffle of the top position this week, touching off a dispute over the broadcasting watchdog’s irregular and unilateral decision-making structure, amid concerns about its failure to stay independent and process regulatory policies based on a consensus-based system.

On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk Yeol accepted the voluntary resignation of KCC Chairman Kim Hong-il in the face of an impeachment vote in the National Assembly, where the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which holds the majority of seats, planned to pass the motion to impeach Kim.

On Thursday, Yoon nominated Lee Jin-sook, a former reporter, public relations and planning director at MBC, as the new chief of the KCC to fill the vacancy left by Kim. Lee is subject to parliamentary hearings, but Yoon can go ahead with the appointment regardless of the result of them.

The top position of the KCC plays a critical role in making policy decisions for the broadcasting and communications industries, including the appointment of a new president at MBC, a major public broadcaster.

Kim, who had taken office six months ago, followed the same path of his predecessor, Lee Dong-kwan, who had resigned on Dec. 1 last year to avoid an impeachment vote.

Both Kim and Lee stepped down ahead of the parliamentary motion in an attempt to ensure that their successors would be appointed by the president and continue their duties. In both cases, if the impeachment motion is passed, they are immediately suspended until the Constitutional Court decides on the impeachment case -- a process that can take as long as 180 days.

The back-to-back resignations of the KCC chiefs and the president’s prompt nomination of a new chief illustrate the ongoing conflicts between the Yoon administration and the Democratic Party over the fate of the media including MBC.

The latest reshuffle at the KCC came a month before the terms of the board members of the Foundation of Broadcast Culture -- the biggest shareholder of MBC -- are scheduled to expire on Aug. 12.

Now that Yoon on Thursday nominated Lee Jin-sook as the KCC chief, attention is on whether she will replace the foundation’s new board members, thereby changing the top management of MBC, in step with the president’s intention. Yoon has maintained turbulent relations with MBC since the broadcaster reported his informal exchange with then-Foreign Minister Park Jin in New York in September 2022, the hot-mic incident in which he used an expletive. The Foreign Ministry then sued MBC.

In preparing to file the impeachment vote against Kim, the Democratic Party took issue with what it alleges is the unfair two-person decision-making structure of the KCC, where Kim and a vice chairperson process all policy decisions. The KCC is designed to be run by five standing commissioners: two directly appointed by the president and three nominated by the National Assembly.

The Democratic Party accuses Yoon of intentionally delaying the appointment of new commissioners critical of government policies. Yoon has refused for over seven months to confirm a new standing commissioner recommended by the National Assembly in November without offering any explanation.

Despite Yoon’s refusal to appoint new members, the KCC has been chugging along because the current law requires just two people to convene a meeting. As for the controversy over the technically legal yet irregular operations of the KCC, Lee Jin-sook on Thursday said that her two predecessors “did not engage in any illegal activities” and she will uphold the neutrality required of the job and normalize the KCC to regain public trust, urging the Democratic Party to recommend standing commissioners to fill the vacant posts.

The Yoon administration and the Democratic Party are clashing over the KCC largely because it has the right to appoint the board members of public broadcasters, which in turn can help shape public opinion. But both sides have to ponder the fact that the KCC is not a political tool to control the media but an independent administrative body that should resolve key policy and regulatory issues through a consensus-based system.