Time to toss the casting couch

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Time to toss the casting couch

Many young Korean people dream of growing up to become a celebrity, with wealth, fame and everything else that comes with the job. Some reports say that there are more than 220 private academies churning out around 48,000 aspirants per year. On top of that, the number of students enrolled in arts departments at universities in this country is almost 30,000. However, the sad reality is that the number of people who can actually make this dream a reality is very small.

And those who do become famous often find they want to wake up from lives that are less than dreamlike.

One of the major reasons for the human rights abuses in the entertainment world is related to the high level of competition for the limited number of spots at the top. The abuse can come in the form of the so-called “slave contracts” between the members of Korean pop group TVXQ and their management agency S.M. Entertainment. Another form of abuse casts women as the providers of sex for men in high positions. Such was the case with Jang Ja-yeon, the actress who committed suicide last year, alleging that she was forced by her agent to have sex with a number of media executives. More recently, a female TV actress sent a piercing shock wave through society when she came forward to say she was sexually harassed by a director of her agency when she was a teenager.

Yesterday the National Human Rights Commission of Korea released the results of its survey of actresses and actresses-to-be. The results are shocking because it has confirmed all the rumors of human rights abuses that have been circulating in the entertainment industry. Sixty percent of the women surveyed said they were asked to have sex with influential people and 30 percent of them said they were sexually harassed. The number of women making claims of abuse was no small number. Five out of 10 respondents said they received sponsorship proposals from their abusers.

For aspiring entertainers, it is never easy to reject a sponsorship proposal because in this country unofficial meetings with advertisers or television personnel are much more influential than regular auditions. In fact, about half of the respondents said they suffered disadvantages after refusing requests for sex from people in the business.

This is shameful. The authorities need to set stricter standards for licensing entertainment agencies. But if the industry ever hopes to root out such bad practices, it needs to change the way it operates. Otherwise hallyu, or the Korean wave, is at risk of a fade out.
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