Stronger evidence found of Blue House control over broadcasters

Posted on : 2014-05-19 11:54 KST Modified on : 2014-05-19 11:54 KST
Former KBS newsroom chief alleges that Blue House ordered uncritical coverage of Sewol ferry disaster

By Ahn Chang-hyun, staff reporter and Seok Jin-hwan, Blue House correspondent

Questions about Park Geun-hye’s control of broadcasting are swirling in the wake of a former KBS newsroom chief’s allegations that the Blue House regularly controlled reporting through network president Gil Hwan-young.

As yet, the Blue House has remained quiet, offering no rebuttal or explanation for the allegations.

Former KBS newsroom chief Kim Si-gon’s allegations on May 16 were taken by many as a frank portrait of the collusion between the network and the Blue House. In particular, Kim’s contention that Gil ordered reporters not to be “too critical of the Coast Guard” in its coverage of the Sewol ferry disaster, citing “orders from the Blue House,” could be seen as a smoking gun indicting Blue House attempts to manipulate public opinion after the tragedy.

The Coast Guard’s ineptitude in the rescue of ferry passengers was a cause of anger for many South Koreans, who soon transferred their accusations of bumbling to the administration. The attempt to block criticisms of the Coast Guard could therefore be read as an attempt to keep the charges from spilling over to the Blue House.

The Blue House expressed bafflement over Kim’s allegations, but otherwise gave no official position.

“We’ve ‘decided’ not to make any official mention of it,” said a senior Blue House official on May 18, on condition of anonymity.

The reticence suggests a conclusion that any hasty attempts to rebut or explain the allegations could lead to even heavier pressures to provide evidence that the administration was not controlling the media. It’s also evidence that the Blue House is still mired in accusations of undue influence over public broadcasting.

The Blue House instead put the focus on an upcoming explanation to be delivered by Gil on May 19. The hope appears to be that the issue will remain tied to the network, without being seen as an example of Blue House interference in public broadcasting.

In his denial of the allegations on May 17, Gil also said he planned to hold a press conference on the afternoon of May 19 to state his position.

“It’s not that the Blue House didn’t say anything to KBS,” said the Blue House official. “It’s just that [Gil] overinterpreted things that have remained unspoken so far, reading too much intention into them.”

The explanation appears to suggest that the situation was not a case of systematic Blue House control over KBS reporting, but one of Gil “reading too much” into the Blue House’s opinions.

“Past administrations maintained the same kind of relationship [with KBS],” the official added. “It’s not as though it became especially serious under this administration.”

As the Blue House official’s statements suggest, much of the issue stems from Park’s failure to shake accusations of broadcasting interference after neglecting her electiontime pledge to “strengthen the public service character” of KBS.

During the 2012 president election, Park campaigned with pledges to “form a public sphere for in-depth discussions on how to improve the public broadcasting government structure” and to “promote transparency in public broadcasting network president elections to a level acceptable to the public.” In a March 2013 statement to the public following a controversy over her plans for reorganizing the government, Park declared, “I have no intention whatsoever of controlling broadcasting, and it is legally impossible anyway. This I can promise to the public.”

But more than a year after she took office, follow-up measures have yet to emerge. Indeed, conspicuous signs of broadcasting controls have recently been evident, with Park’s nomination of conservative associates to major television-related positions.

New Politics Alliance for Democracy floor leader Park Young-sun responded to the situation by holding a press conference with members of the party’s Future Creation, Science, Broadcasting, and Communications Committee to issue a list of demands. The demands included an immediate apology from the President, a fact-finding investigation and punishment of those responsible, fulfillment of the pledge to improve the public broadcasting governance structure, independence in network programming, a parliamentary audit and hearings to investigate Blue House controls over broadcasting, and Gil’s immediate resignation.


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