Korea to loosen controls on media

Government to help build conglomerates

SEOUL — The South Korean government Wednesday announced a series of proposals intended to build the country’s media and its cultural role on an international stage.

Measures include loosening of the rules on media ownership, investment in new regional hubs and an increase in the cultural promotion budget.

Following a report by the Korea Communications Commission, which said larger firms would be better able to compete on a global stage, President Lee Myung-bak said the country should allow the emergence of new media conglomerates.

“The government should create an environment to enable the advent of a world-class media firm with global competitiveness by drastically loosening the string of regulations on the broadcasting and communications sector,” Lee said.

Currently the country has laws that prevent newspapers from controlling terrestrial and cable television stations. Modifications may soften those regulations and also redefine the size of companies that are prevented from owning TV news channels.

“The stringent regulations on ownership and multiple ownership prohibit the broadcasting sector from expanding through new investments and mergers and acquisitions,” the KCC said in a release.

The KCC also said that by December 2009, “private media representatives” will be allowed to sell TV airtime, breaking the monopoly enjoyed by the state-backed Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation since the 1980s.

All the measures are subject to approval of the National Assembly. The proposals are likely to be controversial among journalists, citizens’ rights groups and local media owners. Lee has often been accused of siding with big business.

For now, however, the KCC has held off detailing its plans for a major reallocation of broadcast spectrum, though the report restated its goal of helping new communications systems including IPTV and high speed wireless Internet service Wibro.

Separately, Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Yu In-chon detailed plans to move major cultural projects out of Seoul and into the provinces. However the Museum of Contemporary Art may move in the opposite direction from Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to Seoul. Funding ratios will fall from 8:2 in favor of Seoul at present to 6:4 and eventually 5:5.

Citing Lee’s preference for “creative pragmatism,” the ministry also said funding of state arts projects would focus on quality over quantity. And it extended an existing incubator system based on competition for funds to include stage musicals and plays.

The cultural promotion budget is also to be expanded by 40%.