The Korean government held a cabinet meeting March 7 (Tuesday) to discuss the screen quota which allots a mandatory amount of screen time to domestic films for Korean movie theatres. The meeting was held at the Central Government Complex in Seoul under the direction of Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan. At the cabinet meeting, the Korean government has decided to reduce the screen quota reserving time for featuring domestic films from the present 146 days to 73 days a year.
The screen quota was introduced in Korea in 1966. The system established under the screen quota requires Korean theaters to effectively observe the number of days stipulated by the Movie Promotion Law. The quota requires each theater in the country to run Korean films for two out of five days throughout the year, resulting in 146 days.
The issue of screen quota has been a central topic of debate between the Korean and American governments for some time and there has been steady pressure to dismantle the system. During the 1998 Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations between Korea and the United States after Korea's financial crisis, the Korean government hinted that it was ready to yield with regards to this law. Yet, due to public pressure and pressure from the Korean film community, Korea postponed an end to the Screen Quota.
These days, however, with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations in full swing, the quota has become a target again and raised a heated discussion in Korea.
Last month, Vice Minister of Finance and Economy (MOFE) Kwon Tae-shin exclaimed, "To heighten the competitiveness of Korea's movie industry, our screen quota policy must be abolished, regardless of the FTA".
According to Vice Minister Kwon, the screen quota policy, with its legal support, forces all cinemas in Korea to screen Korean films for a certain period of the year, limiting consumers' right to choose
The vice minister further explained the importance of Korean foreign relationships with other nations, especially with the United States.
He added, "Monopoly is not necessarily a good system. But given the current broadcasting structure and market in Korea, it is a little dangerous to hastily get rid of the current monopoly system".
Currently, the WTO considers film an "industrial" rather than a "cultural" product and as such it is subject to all free trade agreements among countries. And the screen quota-based reserving time has been cut down half of what it used to be. "For now, it would not cause a huge chaos to the Korean movie industry; however, we should be prepared for any possible side-effects caused by this current Screen Quota issue, as well as further reductions in time reserved", noted Jun Chan-il, a movie critic.
By Jun Hwi-gon