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KBS seeks to open Pyongyang Bureau: report

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Seen is the building of KBS in Seoul in this undated photo. Courtesy of KBS
Seen is the building of KBS in Seoul in this undated photo. Courtesy of KBS

By Park Ji-won

National public broadcaster KBS aims to open a bureau in Pyongyang by 2025, according to an opposition party lawmaker who cited a recent internal document about raising TV license fee from the current 2,500 won to 3,840 won.

Opposition People Power Party (PPP) Rep. Park Dae-chul said the broadcaster is planning to launch its bureau in Pyongyang to provide "accurate and unbiased" coverage of the reclusive state and improve inter-Korean relations, quoting the document that details how the national broadcaster planned to use its budget.

KBS earmarked 2.82 billion won ($2.52 million) for research projects on becoming a "unification channel," and 2.66 billion won to send a correspondent to the North. It is also hoping to sign a memorandum of understanding with the North's state broadcaster to facilitate technological exchanges, hold joint programs to mark the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration and Aug. 15 National Liberation Day, and foster youth sports competitions to create joint sports teams.

The leaked document was prepared for the Jan. 26 KBS board meeting in which members discussed ways to raise the current TV license fee which has remained unchanged for the past 41 years.

KBS has tried several times to hike the license fee, but its efforts were in vain due to viewers' protests.

There has been no change in viewers' skepticism about the license fee hike. In the digital era where the influence of traditional media, including TV, has weakened drastically due to the rise of alternatives such as social media and YouTube, the plan to hike the license fee has met even harsher criticism.

According to a survey of 6,375 people from the Korea Information Society Development Institute released in June, 52 percent said they were using paid streaming services and 82.2 percent of these said they had no TV.

The plan for the Pyongyang bureau has produced intense criticism from opposition party lawmakers. Rep. Park claimed the state media is trying to curry favor with the ruling bloc, which has prioritized improving inter-Korean relations as a policy focus, to fulfill its goal of raising the TV license fee. "If KBS pushes the plan to open its Pyongyang bureau at the taxpayers' expense, the public won't sit idly by," he said.

KBS rebuked the criticism, insisting that opening a Pyongyang Bureau to provide unbiased, accurate North Korea coverage is what a national broadcaster should do to fulfill its role as a state company.

It added details of the plan will be decided at a future board meeting.

Park Ji-won


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