[Editorial] A Majority of the People are ‘Special Interests’?

Posted on : 2006-02-18 04:10 KST Modified on : 2006-02-18 04:10 KST

President Roh Moo Hyun says he wants to make sure that signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States is not prevented because of "resistance from domestic interest groups." He made it clear the people he had in mind are those opposing the reduction of the screen quota. "Do you not protect young children who then become independent adults, and has not Korean film grown up enough?"

He would be able to say that if those opposing an FTA with the USA were in the minority. Indeed, when the government and the conservative media were shooting off beautiful fireworks about a rosy future with an FTA, only 20 percent were opposed to it. The exaggerations quickly settled, however, and public opinion started turning around. According to a February 14 survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute, 75.6 percent of the country opposes reducing the screen quota now 20 days since the government's announcement. How can you write off 75.6 percent of public opinion as "resistance from special interests"? Even if particular interests are the motive, that is a percentage that cries out for attention.

The president also said that there are countries that opened their markets and succeeded and others that opened their markets and failed economically, but that no country has ever closed its markets and succeeded. He seems to think of the issue as something that relates to pre-modern policies of national isolation. However, Korea is as open as advanced nations when it comes to industrial products. Capital and financial markets are far too open, so much that it’s a problem. Service markets such as law, medicine, and education are still closed, but there is still no serious opposition to opening those. That leaves agricultural products and the film industry. It would just be preposterous to call that feudal seclusionism. Even in the advanced countries they have limits on opening agricultural and cultural markets. The production of foodstuff directly relates to national survival, much like national defense capabilities. Film relates to cultural identity, being a combined expression of cultural capabilities that includes literature, music, art, drama, and graphics.

Korean film just cannot be compared to Hollywood, which has a hold on 80 percent of the global market. It's not a matter of competitiveness, it's a question of sheer weight. If Hollywood had a hold on distribution because of its massive capital and "contents," even Korean films like Welcome to Dongmakgol and The King and the Clown might never have been produced. Putting a heavyweight and a flyweight in the ring together is not fair competition.

They say that in the past when a country lost to another in a war, it sent the head of a general as an sign of its surrender. When it started negotiating with the U.S., the government gave the Americans an offering in the form of a reduction in the screen quota (Korean filmmakers) and acceptance of U.S. beef (Korean livestock farmers). The president is talking angrily about something he should bow down and apologize for. He once said he would say what needs to be said no matter the embarrassment, but he should be doing that towards the U.S. instead of towards the Korean people.

The Hankyoreh, 18 February 2006.

[Translations by Seoul Selection]

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