[OUTLOOK]Screen quotas make little senseShould the system of quotas requiring Korean-made films to be shown a certain number of days be scrapped? Yes, some officials have said recently, because the quotas are interfering with negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. Under the screen quota system, movie theaters in Korea are currently required to run Korean movies at least 146 days per screen. Under strict supervision, any theater that fails to follow this regulation is fined 5 million won ($4,000). In case of multiplex cinemas, the regulation pertains to each screen in the center.
The United States has refused to sign a bilateral investment treaty with Korea unless the quotas on screening Korean films are decreased or abolished. The Ministry of Finance and Economy maintains that the system must be reviewed, emphasizing the virtues of a bilateral treaty with the United States in promoting exports and attracting investment. The association of civic groups and individuals supporting the system criticizes what it sees as philistinism, declaring that the cultural value of a comprehensive national art form should not be converted into commercial values.
I wholeheartedly agree with the association’s statement that cultural values are a thing completely apart from commercial values. It is a pity that we should even be talking about the movie quota system at all when discussing a bilateral investment treaty. But the cultural value of a movie can be compared to that of literature, music, fine arts and other cultural forms. Moreover, the effects of a quota system, favorable or adverse, on the development of the movie industry itself and movie-related people can be analyzed.
There was a controversy over the movie quota system five years ago as well. At the time, presidential candidate Kim Dae-jung promised to keep the system until Korean movies got a 40-percent market share. The bilateral treaty with the United States was postponed and the movie quota system was kept, as he had promised. The situation now is pretty much the same, but there are a few differences. The changes in politics have been to the advantage of quota supporters. Several movie industry people have acquired some political power; the culture minister is a movie director by profession. What does not work to their advantage is the changes in the economy. Korean movies have long since reached the 40-percent share of the market. The expansion of multiplex cinemas, changes in the pattern of movie capital supply and the improvement of the distribution system are also important changes that have come here.
The most burdensome charge against the association is that it is demanding others to reform and give up their vested interests while they themselves refuse to adapt to a changing environment.
The quota system was first imposed by the Park Chung Hee government as a means of controlling the flow of democratic ideas into Korean society. Policies to encourage the domestic movie industry began in 1963 to evolve into the form of a 90-day quota system for Korean movies in 1966. Once reduced to 30 days, the quota rose to 121 days under the Park Chung Hee government and to 165 days at the beginning of the Chun Doo Hwan government. The present system of a mandatory 146-day showing was adopted in 1985 and has been kept ever since.
The fact that the system was adopted by the military government for the generals’ own interests works against the movie industry’s campaign to keep it for its own interests. Forty years is a long period to justify “infant industry” protection. The claim that the government must correct any “inappropriate tendencies” of movie viewers cuts no ice in this age of video cassettes and DVDs.
If the association truly wants the domestic movie industry to develop, it should look for better ways. Tradable permits might be one idea; theaters that specialize in domestic films could trade their unused foreign film quotas to theaters that are running short of quota. Permits could be traded across screens at cinemaplexes. Further, the movie permits could be sold by the Korea Film Commission and the revenues used to build a comprehensive movie museum or assist the movie industry in other ways. Reform spirit should include the right of Koreans to view whatever films they want to see.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Inha University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.
by Chang Seh-jin