South Korea Grants TV Licenses to Newspaper Owners

Licensing comes after a fierce political battle over the selection process.

SEOUL -- Months after the country’s controversial media bill was passed in the national assembly, the South Korean government granted licenses to start cable television networks for five Korean news organizations, including a government-run news agency and four privately-owned newspapers.   

On Friday the Korea Communications Commission granted broadcasting rights to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea's largest news provider and four major newspapers -- Chosun, JoongAng, Dong-A and Maeil Business for general programming and all news formats.

The announcement, which officially legalizes local newspapers to operate broadcasting businesses, is a result fierce disputes from opposition lawmakers who argued that the current government led by the conservative president Lee Myung-bak will only grant licenses to conglomerates and newspapers that favor his party’s view. Lee had insisted that the reform is intended to make the media industry more competitive and bring diverse content, which is largely dominated by three terrestrial broadcasters – KBS, MBC and SBS.

Many industry specialists predict that the measure will bring “a media big bang” including a fierce competition among broadcasters to secure advertising.

“New cable television program providers are required to promote the quality of Korean culture in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, where hallyu (Korean wave) has been spreading,” said Choi See-joong, the chairman of the Korea Communications Commission, in Yonhap, a local news agency. “They also need to boost global competitiveness based on excellent broadcasting content.”

Over the weekend the announcement of the winners caused heated debates on Internet and among local civic groups, who worry about biased journalism of the conservative newspaper companies – Chosun, JoongAng and Dong-A in particular – and their extended political influence on Korean TV audiences.

In a petition, Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media criticized the current administration and argued that he had distributed broadcasting rights to newspapers that fit his taste.

“The advent of broadcasters run by major newspapers will bring a disaster that will severely damage democracy and diversity of popular opinion,” the petition read.