A southern California television station providing Korean-language programming to the nation's largest Korean community has been accused of broadcasting South Korean government propaganda without properly warning its viewers.
Official complaints filed Tuesday with the Federal Communications Commission and today with the Justice Department by the Korean-American Free Press Committee allege that KSCI, Channel 18, failed to report on disturbances surrounding the return to Seoul of dissident Kim Dae Jung.
The complaints said the station violated FCC rules by hiding the fact that its news programs were produced by the government in Seoul.
The complaints underline the continuing controversy over efforts by foreign governments, particularly South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, to influence rapidly growing ethnic Asian communities in this country.
U.S. activities by Korean government agents are thought to have declined since "Koreagate" scandals of the 1970s, but one Korean dissident pursuing the FCC complaint, Shin Bom Lee, said Seoul is still "doing what it can to control the media."
Thomas Headly, president and general manager of the San Bernardino-based station, said that he was aware that Korean Television Enterprises Ltd. (KTE), the company paying for the 12 weekly hours of Korean programming, had government connections but that no one had complained about the content.
Headly said that he had Korean speakers monitor the programs, seen throughout southern California where an estimated 300,000 ethnic Koreans live, and that they had detected nothing that would violate FCC regulations, "like an appeal to overthrow the government of the United States."
The FCC complaint includes documents showing that KTE, based in Los Angeles, is entirely owned and controlled by the government-run Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) through a company called KBS Enterprises.
An alleged copy of a 1983 agreement between KSCI and KTE attached to the complaint says "the presence, involvement and activities of KBS and KBSE in KSCI-KTE [a new entity to service the contract] will appear to be minimal to the general public in order to avoid the impression of foreign intervention in local U.S. broadcasting."
Officials at KTE's Los Angeles office said they had not seen the complaint and could not respond immediately. A Korean government spokesman here denied that Seoul controls KTE and said he could not comment on documents linking the two.
In a footnote, the FCC complaint suggests that KTE programming may also be used by stations in New York, San Francisco, Newark, and WNVC, Channel 56, in Fairfax, Va.
Bruce Miller, WNVC's operations manager, said today that he has received no complaints about the station's weekly hour of Korean programming. He said the programs were placed by a local producer, not KTE, and included a few minutes of KBS news.
He said that his monitors had reported no problems and that the station has carried no warning that the KBS news might be government propaganda.
The complaint asks the FCC to require KSCI to warn viewers that the Korean government is supplying its programs. A separate complaint filed with the Justice Department alleges that KTE has violated federal law requiring registration of U.S.-based companies that spread foreign government propaganda.
It said that, when opposition leader Kim returned to Seoul in February, the U.S. media extensively covered disturbances at the airport and his house arrest "yet KTE news mentioned only that Kim had returned home, ignoring the airport disturbance and its repercussions on U.S.-Korean relations."