The South Korean film community has reacted strongly to statements from Korea's Ministry of Finance & Economy calling for the reduction or abolition of the nation's Screen Quota system.

In a hastily-arranged press conference on June 12, a coalition of directors, actors, and producers issued a sharp rebuttal to increasing calls from government officials and business groups to scrap the system.

"Any change in the mandatory number of screening days for local films [a maximum 146 days per year, or 40%] means a breakdown in the power balance between Korean and U.S. films," said the group in a statement. "A nation whose mass media is controlled by foreigners cannot be called a nation."

Rumours have surfaced that the screen quota issue is the only remaining hurdle to South Korea's concluding a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with the U.S., which in turn is a precondition for negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement. The U.S. is said to insist on a sharp reduction or abolition of the system.

However, the nation's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, headed by noted film director Lee Chang-dong (Oasis), has denied such reports, insisting that the BIT and the Screen Quota remain separate issues. Lee has said he will stake his post as Minister on preserving the quota system intact.

Conflict between the two ministries over the Screen Quota stretches back several years into the previous administration. A statement issued by the Finance Ministry last year calling on other Asian countries to open their cultural markets caused wide consternation within the film community.

A complicating factor is the current strength of the Korean film industry, which for two years running has posted market shares of over 45%. A report released by IM Pictures on June 12 claimed local market share in Seoul to be 46.2% for the first five months of 2003, with the months of February, April, and May in excess of 50%.

The filmmakers assembled on Thursday countered that long term thinking needs to prevail. "Without the quota system, Korean films could be thrown into a downward spiral of decreasing investment and production, leading to an irreversible quagmire."