+ A

No place on the air

Dec 07,2018
“Tonight — Kim Je-dong,” a late news show that has been aired by KBS since September, crossed the line again. The state-run broadcaster triggered public outrage by airing a nonsensical comment that North Korea’s three-generation dynasty of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un — current leader of the rogue state — is no different from our former presidents Park Chung Hee and his daughter Park Geun-hye. An increasing number of South Korean citizens are criticizing KBS for a critical lack of neutrality as a public broadcaster even though it relies on subscription fees levied on the public in a kind of tax.

On Tuesday night, the public broadcaster aired a live interview with the head of a civic group established to welcome North Korean leader Kim should he visit South Korea — President Moon Jae-in proposed such a visit in his third summit with Kim in Pyongyang in September. The leader of the civic group sparked controversy by saying, “I am one of the avid fans of Kim Jong-un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea.” He even confessed that he likes the Communist Party.

He went on to say that he saw some features he could not see in South Korean politicians. Weird remarks followed. “Park Geun-hye became president after her father Park Chung Hee died. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been serving as heads of state over 20 years. But they don’t call it a power succession,” he said.

After the 40-minute live show — which starts at 11:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday — was over, the backlash began. Even people working for KBS complained. In a statement the following day, a conservative union of KBS employees attacked the show. It questioned whether the show really aired material that was up to KBS’s role as public broadcaster. “It looked as if we were watching a propaganda show by North Korea’s state-controlled television. Is KBS preparing to ripen the mood before Kim’s visit as a spear bearer? How can our state-run broadcaster air such absurd remarks apparently aimed at glorifying Kim Jong-un and his regime?” the union fumed.

Fortunately, Lee Jun-seok, a member of the supreme committee of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, found fault with the ludicrous remarks in his appearance on the show. But we wonder if the public broadcaster really wants to allot precious time to a program designed to introduce ridiculous remarks by a man who says he worships North Korea. A public broadcaster exists to educate. KBS and “Tonight — Kim Je-dong” are obviously oblivious to that higher goal.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 7, Page 34