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[REPORTER’S DIARY]The politics of films

May 25,2003
Is it the intention of the political sector and the economic agencies to publicize the controversy whether Korea should further open its film market? Is that why senior administration officials and politicians are dropping hints, making the film industry nervous?
The first shot was fired on May 9 by Representative Kang Bong-kyun at the National Assembly’s main session. Mr. Kang said, “In order for a swift signing of the bilateral investment treaty between South Korea and the United States, we need to reduce the size of quota [of foreign films] permitted for showing in the nation.” Then, Kim Jin-pyo, the deputy prime minister for finance and economy, on May 13 in a meeting with Korean and American businessmen in the United States, said, “The Korean film industry is nervous about cutting down the quota. If the American film industry increases imports of Korean films, that would help the Korean government in persuading our film industry.” Naturally, the Korean film industry rose up in arms. And suspicion is deep in the industry that comments by government officials to reduce the quota prove the government is up to something.
To make matters worse, at the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Agenda negotiations on the service sector, held in Geneva on May 20, the United States asked that a bilateral investment treaty include the film industry and other audio-visual services industries such as radio and television.
One of President Roh Moo-hyun’s campaign pledges was that the government would not open the nation’s film market. The government continued that policy line when it omitted the film industry from its first proposal for opening the service industry, which was submitted to the World Trade Organization in early April.
Culture and Tourism Minister Lee Chang-dong, who during his director days led the campaign opposed to abolishing the screen quota system, hasn’t changed his stance. In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, while at the Cannes Film Festival, Mr. Lee said, “American movies are like dinosaurs in the jungle.” He added: “I have no plans to make any change to the screen quota system.” At Wednesday’s regular press briefing, Mr. Lee said of the reports of dissension among different ministries on the screen quota system, “It is not a matter that prompts dissension in the government."
Thus, at the moment, the system seems not likely to face change. But in the bigger frame of the bilateral investment treaty between South Korea and the United States, there is ample room for the system to be shaken. A film industry insider said, “As in the past, we have to make sure that the screen quota system should not be superseded by economic logic.” The prevalent sentiment among film and culture sector figures is that the screen quota system is “cultural sovereignty” on which no more concessions can be made.


by Lee Young-key

The writer is a culture news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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