A Longitudinal Analysis of Foreign Program Imports on South Korean Television, 1978-2002: A Case of Rising Indigenous Capacity in Program Supply

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study is to trace the trajectory of South Korea's (hereinafter referred to as South Korea or Korea) dependency on imported television programs by investigating the presence of foreign imports on the country's terrestrial television over the past 25 years. Korea fits well as an illustrative case that exhibits a developing country's path toward increasing self-reliance in program supply. Through a case study of Korea, this study expects to analyze a pattern in the international television program flow of a rapidly developing economy, a case that seems to have been left largely unexplained in earlier studies of international communication flow. Korea has been a rapidly developing country, situated somewhere between rich, industrialized nations and less developed ones.

Moreover, it seems difficult to find a previous study that longitudinally examined the level of foreign imports and domestic programs. Through a case analysis using time-series data, a more robust and long-term explanation can be offered as to how the particular developing nation's path of foreign and domestic program supply has evolved. Using longitudinal data, this work examines: (a) fluctuations in foreign program proportion among the terrestrial television broadcasters in Korea, (b) variations by program genres and country origins, and (c) what implications the Korean case has for the international television flow debate.

The Development of the South Korean Television Industry: Milestones and Phases

During the last 25 years, Korea has been one of the fastest growing economies of the world: The combination of government macroeconomic policy and large conglomerates' aggressive expansion against the backdrop of the nation's rapid and successful entry into the global capitalist system helped the country to become one of the fastest growing economies among newly industrializing countries of the world. The Asian financial crisis adversely affected the economy and produced 3 years of contraction. Since 2000-2001, however, the economy has bounced back and returned to a growth cycle despite lingering volatilities and uncertainties. Its per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) returned to the $10,000 level in 2002.

In addition to the economic growth, the country underwent a series of rapid external and internal changes--political, economic, social, and industry specific--that made it possible to break down the 25-year period into several distinctive phases markedly different from one another in terms of the social environment in which the sector operates. According to the Korean Broadcasting Commission (2002, 2003), the important events for each of the five phases can be summarized as follows:

1978-1980: Korea was under the rule of President Park, the military general turned politician, between 1961 and 1979, a period during which the economy was rapidly growing but political activities were severely oppressed. 1978 was the year when the Park administration was at its peak in terms of national economic development. The industrial structure of the broadcasting sector at the time was the coexistence of one state-run public broadcaster (KBS) and two commercial networks (MBC and TBC). Hence, the proportion of imports was expected to be high during this period.

1981-1986: After the assassination of President Park, a new military regime took over the government in 1980. Many changes followed the change of power, including a complete overhaul of the broadcast industry structure and regulations that included closing down the private broadcaster, TBC, and merging TBC with KBS to create KBS2. This tightened government control was expected to significantly lower the level of foreign imports.

1987-1991: The Korean people's demand for democracy was finally met by a constitutional change that reinstituted direct presidential elections, the outcome of which was decided by general popular vote. Also, Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, which served as a catalyst to facilitate international cultural exchanges. …