Korean president to disband broadcasters

Lee Myung-bak hopes to boost efficiency

SEOUL — Incoming Korean President Lee Myung-bak has called for sweeping deregulation of the broadcasting industry and a broad realignment of the government’s regulatory bodies.

Nicknamed “The Bulldozer,” South Korea’s first CEO-turned-president said deregulation of the broadcasting and communications sector will be a top priority. The presidential transition team has promised “epoch regulatory reforms,” claiming that South Korea is five to 10 years behind other advanced countries in the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications.

Most controversially, the president-elect plans to disband the Ministry of Information and Communication and to replace the existing Korea Broadcasting Commission with a body to oversee both telecommunications and broadcasting. The body will also take on broadcasting-related responsibilities of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Supporters say the establishment of a Broadcasting-Communications Commission will boost efficiency in the two rapidly converging sectors. It is expected to provide a particular boost to South Korea’s major telcos, who are aggressively pushing new-media technologies.

The ministry and the KBC have clashed in the past, most notably in a spat over the regulation of Internet protocol TV (IPTV), which has held up the official launch of the technology for years.

“The line between the broadcasting and communications industries is rapidly breaking down,” said a member of the presidential transition team. “The legal system and relevant ministries should not provide a drag on companies and the economy.”

Nonetheless, the move will require legislation as the Korean Broadcasting Commission, a civilian body, cannot be merged with a government agency under current law. It is unclear whether employees of the new body will be recognized as public servants (as at the Information Ministry) or civilian officials (at the KBC).

The plans are part of a broad restructuring of government proposed by Lee’s transition team, involving the closure of five of South Korea’s current 18 Cabinet ministries and the elimination of 7,000 public servant positions — 5% of the government workforce. Government workers and opposition politicians are expected to fiercely protest the changes.

The president-elect’s position on the film industry and the government-funded Korean Film Council has yet to be announced.

Lee will be officially sworn into office on Feb. 25.