Roh Moo-hyun funeral brings ratings peak

Nearly 42% of Koreans tune in to memorial coverage

SEOUL -- South Korea's three main broadcasters combined to capture a 41% share of viewers during the peak hour of the nationally televised funeral ceremony of former President Roh Moo-hyun.

According to AGB Nielsen Media Research, the three stations saw an average of 38.3% of all of the nation's viewers between 10:58 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. Friday, as the nation bid farewell to Roh, who took his own life earlier in the week. At its peak, viewership reached 41.4% -- about five times higher than the average daytime rating during the week -- Nielsen reported.

Roh, who served as president from 2003 to 2008, leapt from a cliff near his home in Bongha, about 280 miles south of Seoul, on May 23, while an investigation of a bribery allegation from his presidency was pending.

Last week, the reporters' union of state-owned broadcaster KBS released a petition reprimanding the company for parts of its coverage of Roh's death. The union said that company executives had given orders to its reporters to exclude interview clips of mourners who criticized the government at the memorial altar.

KBS denied the union's claim. Citing a media report by another research company, the management of KBS explained in a separate press release Wednesday that the station scooped its competitors by offering the most coverage on the day of Roh's death and the following day.

Survey results from TNS Media Korea showed that KBS spent a total of 904 minutes during those two days on Roh's suicide, while MBC offered 824 minutes and SBS 643 minutes. The number represents the sum of running time for KBS' two channels, 1TV and 2TV.

"In general, the coverage of Roh's death illustrated a typical sentiment of Korean media who tends to be more generous to the deceased than the living," said Kim Taek-hwan, a media critic and the director of Multimedia Lab. "They rarely used the word 'suicide' in their headlines just like they avoided using direct descriptions like 'shooting' during the coverage of former president Park Chung-hee's assassination. If Western journalism sticks to facts in obituaries, Korean media still applies etiquette to the honorable ranks of the former presidents. That's generally the privilege they offer to the deceased here."