[EDITORIALS]Phase out the screen quotaKang Chul-kyu, chairman of the Fair Trade Commission, said Monday that the government is considering reducing the number of days per year that theaters are required to show Korean films. We have already expressed our opinion that it is necessary to gradually scale back the present 146-day quota.
The screen quota system, which for the past 37 years has been a systematic device for protecting Korean cinema, may have been what made the industry strong enough to take major awards at three major international film festivals in the last year. But the truism that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer is especially true in the local film industry. While some Korean blockbusters monopolize theaters, the quota system does nothing to help small, independent film in Korea.
Another serious issue is that the quota system fundamentally limits the audience’s right to choose. In that sense, maintaining the screen quota is not good policy. Therefore, with complete freedom of choice as a goal, we have to make plans to reduce the quota. Since the United States is demanding this as a prerequisite for a free trade agreement, reducing the quota will not only help our film industry to stand on its own, but will contribute to the national interest.
It is regrettable, however, that the Fair Trade Commission, a watchdog agency whose mission is to prevent illegal business transactions, has intervened in a matter pertaining to cultural policy. In international society, the principle that cultural matters are exempt from economic negotiations is an accepted norm. The fact that the Free Trade Commission is intervening in this matter, as opposed to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, could cause the quota issue to be misunderstood as a matter of business law. If we want better things for the Korean film industry, which has just begun to bloom, then we must come up with a plan for the industry along with the reduction of the quota. Then we won’t have to worry about the issues of “cultural sovereignty” raised by some in the artistic field.
It is difficult to understand why the Ministry of Culture and Tourism remains silent about the quota system, even after this intervention by a noncultural branch of the government. The ministry must clarify its position on the screen quota, however belatedly, and then persuade those in the film industry, while presenting them with an industry-specific development plan.