The South Korean government is taking command of this country's news media in a long-range reorganization intended to give officials tight control over the most important channels of communication. g
When the plan is in effect, government or semigovernment agencies will control all broadcasting, and most printed news will be funneled through a government-controlled news agency.
Most major newspapers will remain in private hands but their operations, personnel, and news content will be affected by the reorganization announced last month by the government of President Chun Doo Hwan.
The press has been rigidly controlled for months by military authorities operating under martial-law, but the new reorganization will establish permanent government control over the most important outlets, especially television and radio.
Government officials justified the reorganization plan last week as necessary to preserve some financially shaky news companies, to end questionable journalistic tactics, and to reduce the media domination of a few private companies.
One official, who asked not to be identified, asserted that the plan had been adopted voluntarily by leaders of the broadcasting and newspaper industries.
Other knowledgeable sources said, however, that the plan had been forced on owners by the government and that attempts to resist or modify it had been rejected.
They described it as a further attempt to eliminate dissent and sources of antigovernment news before next spring's presidential and legislative elections, when martial law is to be lifted.
South Korea's press has been censored in varying degrees under the government of the late president, Park Chung Hee, and under military law since Park's assassination last year. Many journalists who attempted to buck the censorship were jailed or fired under government pressure over the years.
The South Korean press enjoyed a brief burst of freedom early this year under the shaky civilian government that succeeded Park's. For four months, statements by opposition politicians were prominently printed, student demands were covered routinely and labor disputes were given intensive coverage.
That ended with the military crackdown on May 17 and censorship has been rigidly enforced ever since. More than 400 reporters and editors have been dismissed and others demoted or reassigned.
The new reorganization will have its greatest effect on broadcasting. The state-owned Korean Broadcasting System will take over the private Tongyang Broadcasting Corp., a highly profitable channel owned by the Samsung conglomerate. The corporation also owned a major newspaper, the Joong Ang Ilbo, and government officials contended that it had too much media power.
Dong A Broadcasting, a radio station owned by another newspaper company, also was taken over by the Korean Broadcasting System.
The other major broadcast outlet in South Korea is the Munhwa Broadcasting Corp., owned by a semigovernment foundation established by Park and known for reflecting government views.
Munhwa now also will acquire controlling shares in its provincial affiliates to enable it, in the government's words, to establish "a closely knit network and enhance the public-interest nature of its broadcasts."
The Christian Broadcasting System, established by religious sponsors in 1945, has been ordered to broadcast only information of a religious nature and to cease general news broadcasts.The station had been operated by the Korean Council of Churches, a center of dissidents for many years, and its news broadcasts occasionally provided less censored versions of national and international events.
One financially ailing Seoul daily is closing and several currently competitive provincial newspapers will be merged, but the biggest change in the print media will be the establishment of a single national news agency. The two major ones, Hapdong News Service and Orient Press, as well as smaller ones, will be folded into one agency.
The new wire service will become the dominant source of information. Newspapers and broadcasting stations in Seoul must withdraw their correspondents from provincial bureaus and rely on the new agency for all news from outside of Seoul.
These changes have been presented by Chun's government as a voluntary reorganization.
It is widely understood, however, that the changes were in response to government prodding. When the private Tongyang channel presented its final broadcast, several entertainers wept openly on the show. Similarly, the final news broadcast of the Christian Broadcasting System was given by two announcers whose voices choked with emotion at the sign off.