Screen quota defenders rally for Unesco draft

JoongAng Daily

Screen quota defenders rally for Unesco draft

October 20, 2005 ㅡ The long-running dispute over Korea’s screen quota system is moving onto new ground: the quota’s supporters are rallying around the final draft of a Unesco convention that would exclude the cultural industries in all of the organization’s member states from free trade agreements or World Trade Organization bylaws.

Advocates of the quota, which forces theaters to show a certain number of Korean films, have touted the system’s protection of "cultural diversity" since protectionism became harder to defend internationally.

The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is to be voted on tomorrow at the 33rd general assembly of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Advocates of the quota are understandably nervous about its future. The Korean government is eager to sign a bilateral investment treaty or free trade agreement with the United States, and the screen quota system is perhaps the biggest stumbling block.

If the draft is adopted, it could be used to justify the quota even if an FTA were signed with the United States. The screen quota is so named because it requires theaters to screen Korean films 146 days a year and protects the domestic film industry from its arch-nemesis: Hollywood.

According to Unesco’s 2000 world report on culture, the eight leading Hollywood studios share 85 percent of the world market, and the three biggest audiovisual media firms ― Time Warner, Viacom, and Walt Disney ― are located in the United States.

The size of the American industry is the crux of the problem. It gives opponents reason to fear Hollywood and Washington a reason to back it up.

And back it Washington has. In a letter to foreign affairs ministers of Unesco member states earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice urged Unesco to delay adopting the draft convention, citing the draft’s "ambiguous language" that could be interpreted in a way that would undermine existing trade agreements and derail progress toward a global trade opening under the WTO.

"I urge you to work with us to postpone action on this convention until we have had more time to address its serious flaws," the letter read.

In Unesco’s June negotiation, 127 of the organization’s 135 countries approved the draft, including France, Canada and Spain. And at the Pusan International Film Festival, both Korean film industry representatives and foreign guests argued in favor of the convention, pointing out that the United States was the only country to speak openly against it.

Ahn Sung-ki, a famous actor and the head of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity in Moving Images, said the reduction of the quota system could bring risks in uniformity of art and cultural visions given the current distribution networks in Korea.

In 2002, China adopted a similar quota system, regulating Chinese theaters to show 66 percent of domestic films.

"The Korean movie industry suffers from the lack of distribution channels to show diverse films," says Ahn Jeong-suk, chief of the Korean Film Council.

Some say the quota should be changed. Ven Bures, a Dutch film critic, said the quota system should be based on a consensus to protect the diversity of Korean films in the market including independent films that have a harder time being screened in theaters.

by Park Soo-mee

Additional reporting by Kong Jun-wan

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source: JoongAng Daily