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SMF: KBS President Ko Daeyoung on Politics and Principles in Korea

Variety logo Variety 12/2/2016 Patrick Frater
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Ko Daeyoung, the sometimes controversial president and CEO of South Korea’s KBS, says the broadcaster’s public service role must be maintained despite the country’s political turmoil.

Variety: What brings you to Singapore this week?

Ko: Two things. First I’m here to receive an honor at the Asian Television Awards. But also I’m here to explore the market in this region, as we are looking to expand within SE Asia.

We are looking at more than content sales. We know that we cannot do everything ourselves and are looking at possible co-production partners. The ATF market is well positioned to help us.

Variety: Your show “Descendants of the Sun” was a huge hit across Asia. What are your content highlights since then?

Ko: We are in discussion with some of the Hollywood majors about blockbuster drama and melodramas that we might co-produce from next year. “Love in the Moonlight,” a period drama that we broadcast in summer is doing well in Asia. I’m happy to say that was a completely in-house production. We’ve also done well with “Hwarang,” a melodrama set in the Shilla dynasty. We expect to see a Chinese online company broadcast that in China.

Variety: Are web productions yet profitable for KBS?

Ko: They don’t make big profits yet. But probably soon. We are making them because previously audiences took an appointment to watch a show at a fixed time and date, but these days these is more demand for the flexibility of video. Audiences want shorter format shows and delivered quicker.

Variety: What is going to be new and different about “Descendants 2” in 2017?

Ko: We are looking at this, but cannot yet be sure that it will be in 2017 or 2018. The protagonists were a soldier and a doctor in the first series. We might consider changing the characters. It is a bit of a headache.

Variety: Where do you stand on editorial independence within news?

Ko: KBS is a public broadcaster. We need to achieve fairness and balance. Historically speaking, Korean broadcasters have been influenced by power. We would like to avoid that and retain balance. KBS has not always been free of that influence, we are not perfect.

Our society is much more complicated today. Power can be manifested by politics, labor, bug business and civic groups. We’d like to be aloof. Somewhere in the middle.

Variety: You came under fire for putting yourself in the middle of a parliamentary enquiry into to coverage of the Sewol ferry disaster and preventing a manager answering all their questions.

Ko: KBS is a public broadcaster, receiving a license fee, so it is normal that parliament should act as a watchdog. I told the managing director in charge of the newsroom not to answer because it was wrong that parliament was asking him directly. As CEO, I’m the one that is responsible. They should not have been putting pressure on the news editor and influencing his future news judgement.

Variety: These are very difficult times in Korea. How will the media in Korea media steer its way through?

Ko: We have very explicit principles. We need proof and evidence before KBS can report something. One or two million people may be on the street and calling for the president to step down. But there is a constitutional procedure, and we should not be taking a prejudiced position.

Variety: That is a very scrupulous position. But Korea is a very fast-moving society propelled by social media. Won’t traditional media get left behind if they play by the principles that you describe?

Ko: Yes people are using multiple sources, including social media for speedy information, but it is another question whether they trust that information. We see that people turn to KBS to clarify and check the news that they heard elsewhere. KBS remains the standard.

Variety: Does KBS have a China strategy?

Ko: We are working very well with China. Our latest co-production is “Japanese Invasion” (aka “Imjinwaeran 1592”) made with CCTV. Political factors are said to be influencing media relations between the two countries, but we believe they can be a major part of the cultural exchange between the two nations. I believe this situation will improve.

Variety: Your career at KBS has involved a demotion in 2010 and no confidence vote. Yet each time you have bounced back from such setbacks. What is your secret?

Ko: There’s no secret. I was a journalist for most of my career. I try to stick to my principles through good times or bad. Sometime that was a helpful position, sometimes not. Maybe I’m not flexible enough. But I like to believe that I’m a man of principle.

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