[Interview] Mediact, S. Korea’s first media center turns 7

Posted on : 2009-06-01 12:52 KST Modified on : 2009-06-01 12:52 KST
Japan, U.S. closely watch changes occurring within S. Korea’s media landscape as organization enters 8th year
 then president of the Association of Korean Independent Film & Video
then president of the Association of Korean Independent Film & Video

Since its founding on May 9, 2002, Mediact has supported independent film and video makers, media policy development, lifelong media education and public access. For seven years, it has provided an infrastructure focusing on the potential of creating a public media sector based on both shifting technological possibilities of access to the media and ongoing political democratization processes taking place in South Korea. According to Lee Joo-hoon, the executive director of Mediact, the center is not only for supporting professionals in the media industry. Its basic concept of service and facilities use includes a notion of universal service for the public and selective service targeting minoritized groups and communities or constituencies working for social change. In addition to film and video makers, Mediact has worked together the elderly, people with disabilities, soldiers, migrant workers, teachers, women, children, and people living in regions outside of Seoul. Lee says, “We consider media education and visual activities to be an integral part of everyday life and a valuable means of communication.”

Mediact’s history

Mediact’s history can be situated within South Korea’s history of progressive mass movements for democracy that emerged in the late 1980s in efforts to overcome the then existing media environment characterized by state censorship and a broadcasting system monopoly that had been built in the 1960s. Some movements from and since that time have included activists involved in alternative and independent film and video production, a critical citizens’ media monitoring movement, and a trade union movement from within the media.

When asked about the founding of the center against the backdrop of the 1980s and 1990s, Lee describes it as a watershed moment in South Korea’s media history in attempting institutionalization. “It became possible to create institutions that supported communication as a human right worthy of public support,” he said.

Mediact emerged as both a public institution supported by a contract between the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), an autonomous organization funded by the central government to promote Korean cinema within the country and overseas, and an independent activist organization managed by the Association of Korean Independent Film & Video (KIFV) that was established in 1998. In terms of social change, Mediact has been a long standing proponent for local media center development and has actively worked with thousands of local media activists, independent filmmakers and various networks of people to build various over 20 local media centers in almost all regions of South Korea, and across different sectors of interests. Mediact has played an especially critical role in a second phase of struggles for public access by launching the National Media Activist Network that represent civil society’s movement for media democracy on various issues, and includes more than a hundred civil society organizations and local media activists.

In addition, Mediact’s solidarity activities have included initiating and supporting distribution efforts that include a considerable Mediact DVD collection of independent documentary and experimental works. Since its founding, it has also sponsored the Human Rights Film Festival, the Labor Film Festival, the Migrant Workers Film Festival, the Seoul Independent Documentary Film & Video Festival, and Indieforum screenings.

Kim Myoung-joon, president of Mediact says, “Support for public access support in South Korea emerged following the abolishment of the censorship law on film and video in 1996 and the passing of the Broadcasting Act in 2000.” He explained that this legislation included a requirement that the Korean Broadcasting System broadcast viewer-produced programs, cable and satellite operators broadcast programs produced by the public via a regional channel or a public access channel, and the government create a public fund to support these productions. As a result of changes inaugurated through this legislation, efforts to extend the terrain of public media began to be shaped by activities to secure funding and integrating public access more broadly into public media policy, the establishment of local media centers, an introduction of media education in and out of schools, training and organizing local media activists into a national media activist network. Kim also said, “Within less than two decades, the media landscape of South Korea became distinguished by the unique reality of public access to terrestrial, cable and satellite channels, its funding for media education, a vibrant network of centers, and a growing Internet culture.”

In the field of international exchange on global media governance

Mediact is located in the heart of Seoul’s downtown area and its motto is “Act through Media, A new Window to the World.” Its activities and those of its members over the years realizing this motto are well noted by international players who work on issues of communications and democracy, media literacy, intellectual property rights, and public interest media. Sean Ó Siochrú , a founding member and chairperson of Dublin Community Television (DCTV) in Ireland, recalls first meeting founding members of Mediact in Brazil in the mid 1990s at a time when Ó Siochrú was playing a key role in evaluating the EU’s STAR and Telematique Programmes. He says, “I recall being really impressed by their participation in Videazimut, and very soon after collaborating on trying to get non-governmental organizations officially recognized in the International Telecommunication Union.” Videazimut was founded in 1990 as an international media federation with organizations from 45 countries around the world.

Ó Siochrú , then Vice Chair and Treasurer for the MacBride Round Table on Communication, also said he enjoyed working together on the 8th round table meeting in Seoul in 1996, and later as coparticipants in supranational policy settings as representatives of civil society, including on the first phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) preparatory committee meetings and summit in Geneva. He has been a long term advocate of a civil society movement organized at local and global levels, “In the end, only a vibrant civil society at the national level, invigorated and enabled by its counterpart at the global level, can ensure that governments take the lead on behalf of people, in terms of human and development rights, and rebuild the governance system of media and communication with people at the center.”

Although the contact has been primarily in international settings addressing global governances structures in media and communications, Ó Siochrú recalls, “A highlight for me in the last decade was being able to visit Mediact’s center in May 2004, to see their operations firsthand as well as participate in a convening regarding media education, introducing the public to various communication rights issues.”

According to Dorothy Kidd, an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco, and the co-chair of Media Alliance, a regional media advocacy organization in the U.S., “Mediact’s research and education teams are up to date on contemporary issues and best practices around the world.” She added, “They bring together the key players to present the most compelling analyses and best practices concerning key issues of communications and democracy, and enable mainstream and independent producers, educators, students and scholars to collaborate in planning and carrying out the best communications practices for the future.” Since July 18, 2003, Mediact has published ACT!, an on-line monthly journal started in July 18, 2003 and off-ACT, an annual off-line journal. Both cover various case studies and subjects including the historical and current structures of local, national and transnational media movements. Kim Ji-hyun, a staff member of the Mediact’s research team says, “We are currently researching cases for a publicly-funded alternative media sector and new public audio-visual media culture policies, and are working on drafting a bill of electronic communication rights and developing a handbook on issues arising from media convergence.”

Regarding Mediact’s anniversary, Kidd said, “As a researcher, I often refer to Mediact because of their important contribution to media democracy in Korea and around the world.” She also recalled first meeting President Kim while he was a participant in the international Labor Tech Conference being held in San Francisco and has seen firsthand the influence of their work in international communication forums. Kidd added, “In addition to the role they play domestically, Mediact plays a crucial international leadership role in public service communications. They are way ahead of most organizations I know in western countries.”

Anniversary as benchmark

When asked about whether or not the 7 year anniversary will mark a distinctive shift in Mediact’s activities, Lee Joo-hoon, the executive director of Mediact, replies that it is possible to say the center faces a new horizon of challenges when seen from the different perspectives of citizens or media professionals. Kim Ji-hyun explained, “How our society will deal with media convergence and rapid changes in media and digital technology, content rating systems, questions of copyright and intellectual property, and electronic media rights remains to be seen.” Lee added that these are issues that he feels go beyond the questions that earlier mainstream public broadcasting and public media movement phases articulated. Kim also said Mediact will be working to maintain their unique form of policy research, education, independent filmmaker advocacy, and training, including remaining active in the field of interlocal exchange, introducing experiences and case studies inside and outside of South Korea, and providing internship programs and trainings for foreigners. The latter of which has been critical to the launching of MediR, a local media center in Tokyo that will celebrate its 1-year anniversary this fall as Mediact begins its eighth.

The organization’s new year already proves to be a busy one as the international community closely watches changes occurring within South Korea’s media landscape. Kim Myoung-joon will be speaking on this as an opening plenary speaker in June at University of South California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication Beyond Broadcast, an annual conference on the impact of new technologies on public service media. This year’s conference theme is “Public Service Media from Local to Global,” and Henry Jenkins, a forefront researcher on “media convergence” and former MIT professor and soon USC Provost, will be giving the keynote address. Mediact is also preparing to meet with a contingent of lawyers from Japan in mid-June that will be coming to Seoul to observe and learn from changes being proposed in South Korea’s cultural, broadcast and intellectual property right policies.

For more information, see the spotlight on Mediact in Cine21, Hankyoreh’s movie weekly: http://www.cine21.com/Article/article_view.php?mm=005002003&article_id=56250

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]