Role of Internet expands for 2007 Korean presidential race

The Internet is going to play a bigger role in Korea’s December presidential elections.

Candidates are using the Internet to muster support, and members of the National Election Commission’s broadcasting debate team will be educated on how to create and manage online videos, because candidate debates this year will be aired online as well as on television. Meanwhile, Web portals are preparing information services specific to the upcoming elections.

The Korea Broadcasting Institute announced yesterday that it will conduct a four-week training program for the 286 employees of the National Election Broadcasting Debate Commission beginning next week. In the past, the commission hosted television debates between presidential candidates during the campaign periods, but this year, it hopes to incorporate a more interactive form of debate using the Internet.

Internet portals are also getting ready to present special presidential election sections. Naver, Daum, Yahoo! Korea, and Nate.com all plan to open special election sections. Yahoo! Korea said that its election section will compile election-related news, and host online surveys with the national survey organization Korea Gallup through a panel of 320,000 members.

Daum plans to open a similar section in the first half of this year. The portal operator began running an open user committee last year, in which Internet users play an arbitrator/moderator role in selecting news. Although Daum has not unveiled a fixed plan on what its special election section will be like, spokeswoman Park Hyeon-jeong said it will include a revised version of the portal’s current topic-discussion forum service, Agora. During the May regional elections last year, Daum ran a special page that included sections for each candidate, with profiles and policy plans.

Nate.com, operated by SK Communications, is also developing a special section, slated for presentation in June.
Internet portal companies are creating the special sections for several reasons. Chae Sun-ju, a spokeswoman for NHN, said revenue from ads was not necessarily higher because of the elections. “The special feature is more in line with social contribution regardless of uncertain sales,” she said.

Despite the low anticipation of actual profit, however, the presidential elections offer a number of benefits for Internet portals because those that have well-organized sections will have more visitors. Ms. Park of Daum also pointed out that during the legal campaign period from Nov. 27 to Dec. 19, Internet portals are allowed to receive ad money from candidates and political parties within the framework of the election rules.

More importantly, however, portals are taking these measures because the National Election Commission recently banned posting of campaign-related video clips on Internet media Web sites until the legal campaign period. The commission defines Internet “media Web sites” as Web sites that publish news articles, which applies to all portal Web sites.

Until the period begins, people can only post videos on individual blogs, to prevent violation of pre-campaigning laws.
According to the National Election Commission, video clips will be one of the greatest factors that affect the outcome of the presidential election. Korea is one of the world’s most wired nations. And Korean presidential contenders have been using Internet Web sites to air user-created video clips using Web channels such as Pandora TV.

Competition to get good Web addresses for channels on Pandora was so fierce that candidates had to draw lots early this month.
By Wohn Dong-hee for JoongAng Daily

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