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The Civil Society Should Keep an Eye on Portals

By Song Kyong-Jae (Research Professor, Kyung Hee University) 기자2007.12.01 00:00:00

 
▲ Song Kyong-Jae 
ⓒ photo by The KNU Times
It has been 38 years since the core of the Internet, Advanced Research Project Agency Network (ARPAN), came to existence in 1969. As the Internet developed, portal services have received so much attention as a tool to search for information. There are three reasons why they are becoming significant in the Internet.

The changes stemming from an information-oriented society can be seen as the fist reason. The Information and communications technologies revolution (ICTs Revolution) has increased the population of Internet users who are able to search, send e-mails, and make communities in portal sites. The meaning of information has now changed into the concept of what can be shared amongst Internet users, which has led to the new-born media service and its development in portals.

Second, portal news services have a tremendous impact and their advantages have contributed to the development of portals. The advantages involve the synergy of concentration, speed and interactivity for Internet users. This represents specialized services, such as information searching, news, and discussion services. In the past, most news was distributed through traditional media. Nowadays, however, a huge amount of information is provided for users in cyber space. News has also become interactive, as information-takers are now able to have discussions with each other and upload their comments, which are then spread to other websites.

Third, Korea’s unique distribution structure has also triggered the concentration of portals. It was unavoidable that much of the information is gathered on the portals, since the development of the Internet in Korea has been closely connected to that of portals. Portals have come to play a major role as distributors of contents due to the Internet industry’s unique characteristics. This has enabled ‘one source multi-use’ which means that the originator (source) of the contents sells them to various consumers.

The demand for news-related content has shifted to portals thanks to the netizens’ strong concentration and the portals’ easy access. In particular, thanks to the advent of the 17th presidential election, the growing powers of portals are having significant impacts on politics and society. Some journalists call this trend ‘the phenomenon of portal-based decision making with regard to the presidential election.’ In addition, our society is concerned that portals are abusing their rights to edit news. Up to now, the portals’ roles of gatekeeper, supplier, and producer were highly evaluated according to the traditional form of ‘the theory of agenda setting.’ Now, however, they are taking liberties with the distribution and editing of news. It is increasingly likely that portal news editors are manipulating news items to favor particular candidates.

To prevent this happening, many precautions are needed. In particular, it is hoped that a self-aware civil society, by its very nature, can be a tool for deterring excessive political action on the part of the portals. In addition we must be concerned that unidentifiable rumors can quickly spread throughout the whole Internet society. What is worse, those rumors can invade cyberspace without being monitored by any authorities. If we are to transform this practice into a more democratic process, then we need a neutral party to provide checks and balances through constant monitoring. This is the reason why our society should assess and supervise the Internet media in addition to other news media such as newspapers and TV/radio broadcasting. This is necessary if portals and other media are to allow fair elections.

Finally, portal site operators should also be committed to improve cyber conditions. Portal companies must be responsible for delivering information rather than taking advantage of information-related-laws. A special board of enquiry should be established in the portal companies to consistently monitor their contents.





[No.326]
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