Proposed US-Korean trade deal threatens cultural sovereignty

Screen quota important in Korean fight against globalization

by Kim Kyong-nyon / Jeon Ji-eun, Oh My News

In January the Korean government announced plans to halve the long-standing quota which imposes the screening of Korean films 146 days per year in cinemas, and thus significantly reduces the number of foreign films that can be shown. The move is part of a free trade agreement (F.T.A.) with the American government.

Members of the Korean film industry have been protesting against the plans and they are supported by the International Network for Cultural Diversity (INCD).

The I.N.C.D. is a global network of cultural producers and no]n-governmental groups that includes 400 member organizations from 71 countries. It works to counter the adverse effects of globalization on world cultures.

I.N.C.D.’s part-time executive director Gary Neil said, "The fight to save the Korean screen quota isn’t only for the benefit of the Koreans, but it is also for the global cultural movement."

Neil came to Korea on June 8 to learn what more could be done to help the campaign, and on June 11 agreed to be interviewed by OhmyNews at the office of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images in Seoul.

In addition to his work with I.N.C.D., Neil is a consultant in cultural policy and has been a representative of the actors, screenwriters and singers union in Canada since 1992. He has recently raised cultural concerns with the union with regards to Canada’s F.T.A. negotiations with the U.S.

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What brought you here?

From a global point of view, the fight to save the Korean screen quota is very important. As the screen quota is a cultural policy that actually works and is effective, it plays an important role in creating an environment where Korean movie makers are being celebrated around the world, and where Korean movies have begun to be shown around the world.

It is obvious to us that the Korean government’s decision to slash the screen quota was made under pressure from the U.S. as a pre-condition for starting negotiations with them. This decision by your government comes only three months after the international community signed the new U.N.E.S.C.O. convention. I came to Korea to support the international cultural diversity movement and find out what more we can do to help the campaign.

We heard that in March the I.N.C.D. sent a letter of concern to the U.S. congress.

It wasn’t sent just by the I.N.C.D.; it was also sent in collaboration with a number of U.S. organizations, one of which, "FREE PRESS" has almost 225 thousand U.S. members. We pointed out in the letter the concern about the Korean screen quota, and the pressure that had apparently been applied by the U.S., and we suggested that the U.S. should itself propose a cultural exemption to the F.T.A.. We also argued that the U.S. needs to retain its own rights to implement cultural policies if they want the right to regulate broadcast and media.

What do you think of the activities of the Koreans who are protesting to protect the screen quota? For example the actor Choi Min-sik staged a three day protest at Cannes International Film Festival in May, and a delegation also went and protested in the U.S.

Choi Min-sik was very successful in Cannes. There was a lot of media coverage, both in the French media and in the U.S. industry press. One of my primary objectives in being here is to discuss how we can make broader links between the Korean movement and its sympathizers in the U.S. I think that we will be able to persuade many other U.S. groups to support the cinema screen quota.

In the case of other countries, to what extent do Hollywood movies dominate the market?

Even in Europe, where you have countries that are economically very strong, and you have large media companies, U.S. movies dominate and have anywhere from a 60 percent to a 85 percent market share.

That’s why the Korean example of the screen quota system, which resulted in the market share of Korean movies increasing from about 16 percent to 47 percent of the domestic market in just over a decade, is such a powerful example.

In Canada we share a border and a language with the world’s largest producer of cultural material. We have problems and there are challenges. Canadian television channels probably show domestic products about 60 percent of the time, but we only have less than 1 percent of the market share for Canadian movies.

The difference of course is that we do not have cinema quotas, we have television quotas.

The Canadian government has asked for a cultural exemption in its F.T.A. negotiations with the U.S. Doesn’t that put Canada in a better situation than Mexico?

You’re correct that our situation with respect to the U.S. is stronger than the situation of our Mexican colleagues. But the cultural exemption we have in the Free Trade Agreement is not as effective as you might think it is. So not withstanding the cultural exception, we have continued to suffer pressure from the U.S. on account of a number of our cultural policies. In fact we have changed a number of these cultural policies under that pressure, to make them less effective.

The second reason is that it doesn’t relieve us from the pressures that come from the multilateral system in the World Trade Organization. In 1997 the U.S. was successful in its challenge at the W.T.O against the measures that Canada had to support the Canadian magazine publishing industry.

The Telecommunications market in Korea is already about 49 percent open and the U.S. is exercising managerial rights by going for about 51 percent. What is your opinion of this situation?

There’s no question that, with respect to content, our view is very strong. The countries need to have the right to regulate and to implement policies that promote domestic and local content, artists and producers. That right should exist with respect to whatever form is affected. That goes for Internet distribution as well as other new medias.

Marshall McLuhan, a famous Canadian communications scholar, coined the phrase "the medium is the message." He foresaw this convergence between different forms of content, and the convergence between different distribution technologies. That’s why the U.N.E.S.C.O. convention on cultural diversity said that it is very important that it be technology neutral; and it says that countries have the right to regulate content regardless of the way it’s created or the way it’s distributed to the audience.

Do you have a message for the Koreans who are fighting to protect the screen quota and for the Korean government?

Yes, the message is, you have to keep fighting because you’re doing it not only for yourselves but also for the entire global cultural diversity movement. My message to the Korean government is that they are very wrong to even consider giving culture away for the sake of the F.T.A.

article originally published at http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?article_class=2&no=2986....

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