[OUTLOOK]Film quotas manipulate culture"The U. S. film industry occupies 65 percent of the French market, 85 percent of the Italian market, 90 percent of the German market and almost all of the British market. Is that still not enough?
"Is there then a quota required for releasing American films?
"Sorry to say, but we should take measures to restrict U. S. films from completely occupying screens of other countries. You have imposed various restrictions on the import of Japanese cars. Is it so harmful to prepare provisions to protect a culture, which is much more important than cars?
These thoughts are responses that the Greek-born French film director Costa-Gavras mentioned in an interview with a U. S. magazine soon after the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. He meant to underline the need for a "European version of screen quotas.” On the contrary, a heated dispute is going over the reduction of screen quotas in Korea. Some people have criticized the quota system, saying it deprives moviegoers of their freedom to choose. Others warn that it will cause great losses by pursuing small profits.
I cannot reason with the libertarian believers in culture who demand that the import and release of films be left to free choice, just as the import of automobiles are. But I can question the "penny wise, pound foolish" way of thinking. Here, the "penny wise" refers to maintaining screen quotas, while the "pound foolish" refers to unsettling of the U.S.-South Korea Bilateral Investment Treaty.
Is the treaty that pressing? The counterparts of the treaty with the United States, largely East European countries with changed systems and the poorest countries in the Third World, are not significant countries. No members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are included in the treaty. To put it bluntly, most countries included in the treaty are those which say, "It doesn’t matter how much [profit] you take away from us, just please remember to invest your money in our country."
Looking carefully at the list of treaty members, I thought it would be better to be excluded from that list rather than included. Even if the United States urged us to enter the treaty, we should have hesitated to agree. But the Kim Dae-Jung administration obviously made a mistake thinking that it should first take the initiative in making the agreement. The financial crisis cannot be put forth as an excuse, because one East Asian country can overcome the crisis without the treaty with the United States.
It’s ridiculous to estimate that the treaty will bring about 4 billion dollars of the inducement effect of (foreign) investment. The drag on our present economy is not because of a lack in foreign currency. Leaving aside the floating funds of 380 trillion won ($300 billion) and offering a lack in foreign capital as an excuse appears to me derelictions of the policy-making authorities' duties.
The treaty is one thing and the screen quota quite another. There is a forbidden clause on "the enforcement of obligations" in the standard agreement bill proposed by the United States, and the implementation of screen quota is claimed to be contrary to the clause. But because it is a one-way proposal by the United States, it should be coordinated through negotiations.
Foreign investors who intend to enter the South Korean market for domestic film distribution and production will meticulously calculate the profits and losses. But foreign banks and automakers do not decide to invest based on the Korea's screen quota. It is almost absurd to ask whose profit is larger -- 33 billion dollars of Korea's export to the United States or 200 million dollars of Korea's imports from the United States?
When we succumb to pressure from the United States to halve the requirements for local cinemas to show domestic movies from a current 146 days, which is actually 92 days, it does not mean just reducing the days. When the distribution is halved, film production will also be reduced by half. When this vicious circle continues, the domestic film industry in Korea will be doomed while Hollywood filmmakers will be triumphant.
I am not appealing to petty patriotism that we should protect Korean-made films with a screen quota barrier. But I don't think it is right to manipulate the future of culture simply based on economic calculation. Costa-Gavras said, "Our mind is not for sale, and culture is not for negotiation."
The actors Gary Cooper or John Wayne, often playing cowboys, were screen idols when I was young. I thought white men who hunted Indians were symbols of justice, and that the Indians who worked to protect their land and existence were evil-doers.
French President Jacques Chirac emphasized the "cultural exception" of the film sector, saying "Culture should not surrender to trade." Nontrade concerns, which the WTO allows for areas with exceptional traits in trade, should be given to the opening of the film market as urgently as to the opening of the rice market.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Joseph W. Chung