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Korea: BCC to usher in more open era

Mip Territory Reports

SEOUL — South Korea looks likely to enter a new and more open era in broadcasting regulation with the launch of its Broadcasting and Communication Commission.

Officially opened at the end of February, the new agency is a merger of the Korean Broadcasting Commission and the now-disbanded Information Ministry and will oversee regulation of broadcasting, telecoms and rapidly growing new media technologies.

The restructuring is part of a broad downsizing and reorganization of government that was initiated by Korea’s first CEO-turned-president, Lee Myung-bak, who was sworn into office Feb. 26.

In past years, turf battles between the KBC and the Information Ministry had held up the drafting of regulations on convergent technologies such as Internet protocol television (IPTV).

Potentially just as groundbreaking, however, is the government’s positive attitude toward deregulation of the broadcasting industry.

“The regulations for telecommunication industries have long been designed to spur more competition, while the broadcasting industry has been heavily regulated,” says communications professor Hwang Geun of Sun Moon U. “With the two sectors rapidly integrating, the deregulation of all of those sectors is a global trend.”

For example, a long-standing ban on companies owning both newspapers and television stations is expected to be lifted, while a round of mergers and acquisitions in the cable sector are predicted with the relaxing of market-share rules for multisystem operators.

In particular, Korea’s major conglomerates are expected to take advantage of widened access to the cable sector in order to compete with the nation’s telcos, which are aggressively pushing IPTV.

Meanwhile, the BCC has indicated it will re-examine such issues as restrictions on advertising and the role of Korea’s public television stations.

Detailed proposals for deregulation are expected to emerge in the coming months, but the start of operations for the BCC is being held back by a parliamentary battle over the appointment of Choi See-joong, a close confidante of the president, to head the agency. Opposition lawmakers accuse the president of trying to wield influence over the media by nominating a member of his inner circle, and allegations of past wrongdoing by Choi when he was head of Gallup Korea have further weakened his case.

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