SEOUL, Korea — In a microcosm of what's happening in Korean society, women are emerging in key roles on television here. Of the nine news anchor spots on two Korean Broadcasting System channels, six are filled by women, three by men.
The country got its first solo woman news anchor last year, a breakthrough that other women in broadcasting say has benefited them.
Shin Eun-Kyung, who started with KBS as an announcer in 1981, was appointed to her anchor role in February, 1987. But as Barbara Walters had found out a decade earlier when she became the first American woman to anchor an evening newscast, Shin's advancement was accompanied by controversy.
"Even though I was older and had been a co-anchor, some people could not believe my capability to anchor by myself," said Shin, who is 39. "Some people did not like to see a woman as the sole anchor of the evening news.
"I think it was a general tendency of society not to expect a woman to take an important role."
Shin does not do any field reporting for her broadcasts, but she does take on special assignments. Last Jan. 1, she hosted a 7-hour live satellite show covering New Year's celebrations around the world, and in March she did a special about the Winter and Summer Olympics. She also received wide attention for a 3-month live series on the National Campaign for Family Reunion for families separated in North and South Korea and other parts of the world.
The youngest woman co-anchor at KBS is Lee Kyu-Won, 25, who started at the network only last year after graduating from a woman's university in Seoul. "I have only one sister and she too works in television, so I think I was a little influenced to follow in her footsteps," Lee said. "Broadcasting here is an attractive and interesting job for women, with good pay."
She credited Shin for opening the way for her and other women to move up in broadcasting. "She was the first to broadcast the news by herself, and I'm proud of that. It implies that every female can get a better job."
Lee has found an added bonus in working at a television network.
"We have a satellite broadcasting room where we can get all kinds of programs," she said. What does she tune in? "I enjoy the 'Bill Cosby Show,' also David Letterman's show. I also like to watch Connie Chung and Jane Pauley."
Another KBS journalist, Jung Mi-Hong, is known as an aggressive news reporter in addition to her co-anchor role on the KBS evening news.
"Broadcasting is an exciting business and as anchors we enjoy wide respect. The barrier has been broken and the audience no longer sees us as women but as broadcasters," she believes.
What's on TV tonight?
How about "TV Military Tactics" at 8 p.m., "University on Chinese Contemporary Literature" at 10, and "Professor Sohn's Family" at 10:40.
Such is a typical night's fare in Seoul, where there are four television channels in Korean and one in English (the Armed Forces Korean Network).
Korean Broadcasting System runs three channels: one largely for news and public affairs with some entertainment, a second primarily entertainment with summarized daily news and a third reserved for educational programs.
Local viewers pay a monthly license fee on color TV sets (but not black-and-white) of 2,500 won (about $3.50). There's also the equivalent of one year's fee tacked on when a new color set is purchased. KBS is thus referred to here as a "public" broadcasting operation, because it draws operating revenue from this licensing system.
KBS's competition is MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Corp.), a commercial station with a mix of children's shows, comedy, music, dramas, movies and news.
Commercials do not interrupt the programs but rather run in clusters between the shows. The other morning, between a talk show and a cooking show, there was about 5 minutes of TV ads for children's clothes, cooking oil, bottled sauces, 100% cotton fabric, orange juice, an iron and even a spot on traffic safety (a cartoon of a father and two children in a car, all drawn as Anglos but speaking in Korean).
During the week, TV in Seoul is broadcast only from 6-10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Weekday afternoon programming was eliminated to conserve energy during the Mideast oil crisis of the early 1970s and was never resumed.
This fall, however, KBS will restore daytime programming for the XXIV Summer Olympic Games that will take place in this 5,000-year-old city beginning in September.
As host broadcaster, KBS will not only cover the Games for local viewers but will also provide the television picture that will be used by broadcasters around the world, including NBC, which paid $300 million for the rights to broadcast the Games in the United States. An estimated 3 billion people are expected to watch the Games worldwide.
Chung Koo-Ho, president of KBS, told visiting American journalists here on an NBC Olympic tour that the importance of the role of host broadcaster cannot be overstressed.