South Korea's government is to cut its 146-day screen quota forlocal productions in half starting July 1.

Deputy Prime Minister andFinance Minister Han Duck-soo announced in a weekly briefing today (Jan 26)that the government is planning to legislate the enforcement ordinance on Jan27.

As Korea's second-largest trade partner, the US has been pressing the Korean government for years toreduce its screen quota, which requires cinemas to screen local films for 146 days a year, citing it as a major hurdle to negotiating a bilateralfree trade agreement.

Filmmakers quickly mobilisedto hold an emergency press conference the same day, decrying the announcementand vowing to fight the move. All-night vigils will be held in protest from Feb1-7, leading up to a large-scale demonstration on Feb 8.

The Ministry of Culture andTourism is to announce a film industry support plan on Jan 27, seen as a meansto placate filmmakers. The plan is likely to provide funds for the industry'spromotion and development as discussed in consultations with the Korean FilmCouncil last year.

However, "the Ministry ofCulture and Tourism did not discuss this [recent measure] with KOFIC," saysSecretary General of KOFIC Kim Hye-joon to"They consulted with the Ministry of Finance and Economy alone. From the Koreanfilm industry's standpoint, the quota would be better maintained as is."

Members of the NationalAssembly are criticising the government for bowing to trade pressure and"selling off culture" less than three months after the Oct 2005 UNESCO treatyof cultural diversity was signed.

"Hollywood films have enjoyed an increased rate of profits since theimplementation of the screen quota [has grown the film market in Korea]," said Assemblyman Jeong Byung-kook.

"They take up more than 90%of the world market, while Korea and France are the only countries in the world where localfilms hold over 40% of market share. It's deplorable that the Korean governmentwould abandon a system that the rest of the world is looking to forbenchmarking."