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Korean politicians use TV appearance to improve image

Publication Date : 25-07-2012


Conservative presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye has been regarded as a rigid practitioner of old politics remote from people’s present-day lives.

Her liberal rival Moon Jae-in has been seen as a staid manager rather than a visionary leader. To an increasing number of voters, Ahn Cheol-soo, the dark horse, is viewed as an indecisive nerd lacking the guts for the world of politics.

To shed these preconceived images, the three frontrunners for the December election appeared on late-night TV talk show Healing Camp.

The charge worked well. Polls show their images improved and support rates rose just after their appearances, attesting to the growing power of TV entertainment in election campaigning.

But experts raise concerns that politicians’ resorting to show business could distract voter attention from serious policy issues.

“Politicians, by appearing on entertainment programmes, may tear down the stereotypes and befriend the public, especially the young generation,” said Yoon Pyung-joong, politics professor at Hanshin University.

“But here lies a great danger as the voters may be blinded by the candidates’ friendly image and neglect the fundamentals such as their policies and political abilities.”

On Monday, the main opposition Democratic United Party kicked off its presidential primary, but non-party rookie Ahn’s appearance on the popular talk show on SBS captivated public attention.

Ahn, software mogul and Seoul National University professor, capitalised on the loose atmosphere of the chat with two popular comedians and an actress to lay out his political views and talk about his private life.

His appearance came only days after the publication of his new book which increased expectations that he would join the presidential election.

Ahn said he has yet to make up his mind. “I shall remain open to both options and heed the people’s judgment.”

According to AGB Neilson Media Research, 18.7 per cent of households across the country and 21.8 per cent in Seoul watched the program.

The figure was the highest ever for the programme and exceeded those for Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in, presidential frontrunners of the ruling Saenuri Party and the DUP respectively, who appeared on the show in January.

Park, the former Saenuri chairwoman broke away from her rigid and exclusive image somewhat, upping the support rates for herself and the party before the April general elections.

Moon, who served as chief of staff of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, also saw his approval ratings rise, after he tried to show his humble and candid aspects and spoke of his fond memories of Roh.

Ahn’s appearance irked his potential rivals such as Kim Moon-soo of the Saenuri and Sohn Hak-kyu of the DUP.

The two reportedly asked to be featured in the programme but their requests were rejected.

“Considering both political equity and public responses, we invited the top three presidential hopefuls, one from each leading party and one from a non-party domain,” said Choi Young-in, the show’s chief producer.

Pundits are concerned that the excessive reliance on publicity may result in a regression of Korean politics in the long-term.

“It is understandable that the people may want to feel closer to public figures but politics should be taken seriously as it deals with the nation’s security as well as its future,” Yoon said.

Professor Kim Hyung-joon of Myungji University said the soaring influence of entertainment shows largely reflects the public’s distrust of conventional politics.

“People should nevertheless remember that political support based on vague images may be just as harmful.”

Ahn Byung-jin, professor at Kyung Hee Cyber University, however, said it is one aspect of politics adapting to the era marked by the increasing importance of mass communication.

“Public communication has become an inevitable factor in modern society,” he said.


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