Monday, March 12, 2012

Hallyu boom: igniting a bureaucratic turf war

Ministries vie for dominant role as K-pop leaps borders

The hallyu, or the Korean wave, its market grew tenfold last year, compared with a decade ago.

According to industry experts, the K-pop craze, which is contagious among young people in Asia, Europe and Latin America, is a key driver for the record-high profits earned from hallyu exports last year. Since 2009 the K-pop explosion has fallout that is landing well beyond Asia riding on the free ticket of social media, such as YouTube, they said.

As Korean pop culture becomes global as it goes viral, ministries and government agencies are competing to steer the hallyu bandwagon.

They have delegated teams dedicated to spreading Korean culture and ideas while taking every road and avenue to make K-pop and the nation’s TV dramas available in every corner of the earth. They claim their supportive role has been significant in aggrandizing the hallyu boom.

Why are ministries and agencies with no direct link to hallyu desperate to get involved?

The heads of those institutions can claim that their supportive role has been a main driver in the success of K-Pop and Korean dramas as they go borderless, according to staff working with those agencies.

A bureaucratic turf war came as several government agencies leapt on the hallyu bandwagon.

In January, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched a team to promote hallyu. Under the supervision of the first vice culture minister, the team is responsible for drawing up assistant measures to help the K-pop boom have a trickle-down effect on other Korean products, such as films and traditional culture.

The hallyu team was launched four months after Rep. Shin Nak-yun of the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) submitted a bill calling for the establishment of a control tower to promote the Korean wave as the boom spread beyond Asia.

The bill called for the Prime Minister’s Office to allow the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to draw up a comprehensive strategy to help sustain hallyu’s popularity.

Thirty-five lawmakers co-signed the measure, which is pending at the National Assembly.

The bill has alarmed the culture ministry. Officials there were worried that the ministry’s dominant role in policy support for the hot item will inevitably be undermined if the bill gets the nod from lawmakers.

Several high-ranking officials from the culture ministry visited Shin’s office shortly after she submitted the bill to the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Unification and Trade Committee in September.

Ministry officials lobbied Shin, culture minister from 1998 to 1999 under the late Kim Dae-jung government, to rethink the bill.

“Culture ministry officials were concerned about the measure as officials felt that their influence would dwindle if the foreign ministry draws up the strategy. They insist that the culture ministry oversee the grand strategy,” said Jang Won-ik, an aide to Shin.


Shin said she believed the foreign ministry needed to draw up the comprehensive supportive strategy because it is easier for it to gather country-specific information through its 150 foreign missions.

Jang said members of the foreign affairs committee were overwhelmed by the free trade agreement with the United States last year and they have yet to read the bill. But their deliberations will start soon, he said.

Industry experts estimated the hallyu market reached nearly $300 billion last year.

The culture ministry insists that it has to orchestrate policy support for hallyu as it is in charge of the operation of 21 Korean Cultural Centers abroad. They are the outposts of Korean culture.

They provide a variety of events, run free Korean language programs and showcase Korean films and art to help local residents build a deeper understanding of Korean culture.

Currently, the centers overseas are operating under the supervision of Korean embassies.

Asking for anonymity, several insiders said there is an ongoing rift between staff at the culture centers and the embassies.

The popularity of Korean pop music, soap operas and even food has inspired policymakers of ministries that seemingly have no direct link with the current wave to find their own niche to benefit from the culture boom.

Several other ministries and government agencies have created hallyu programs to spread Korean ideas and culture.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Presidential Committee on Nation Branding and several other government agencies have hallyu projects.

The entry of diverse government agencies in the hallyu market under the name of policy support has spurred similar overlapping programs.

For example, the Korea Foundation and the Academy of Korean Studies finance foreign scholars studying Korean studies.

The former is doing so under the auspices of the foreign ministry, whereas the education ministry is supervising the Academy of Korean Studies. Korean language programs also overlap. The Korean Culture and Information Service provides free Korean language courses through its 20 culture centers abroad. A similar service is also provided by the National Institute for International Education which is under the supervision of the education ministry.

The overlapping of similar functions has not only caused a budget increase but also prompted a turf war among ministries or government agencies.


The Korea Foundation is now working on exporting a hit TV drama, “My Wife is a Superwoman” aired on MBC in 2009 through Korean embassies.

Seo Min-soo, a senior fellow of Samsung Economic Research Institute, said the role of dramas in creating the hallyu boom is significant.

“Most K-pop fans are young, but the age range of those who watch dramas is wide, from teenagers to elderly citizens,” he said. “K-pop only shows the trend of Korea’s pop music, whereas dramas show a wide range of aspects of Korean culture.”

Producers and broadcasters are not enthusiastic about their shows being viewed by global audiences for free.

So the government gives the broadcasters or producers a three-year period to find foreign business partners who are willing to purchase the programs.

If they are unable to find business partners, then the Korea Foundation tries to find foreign broadcasters interested in airing the Korean dramas at no cost.

President Lee Myung-bak called on policymakers to come up with effective policy support for hallyu.

In a meeting with the chiefs of Korean Culture Centers overseas last month, President Lee Myung-bak asked them to be proactive, analytical and think outside the box.

“Some may think K-pop is ruling the world. I disagree. It has just begun. We need to be more thorough-minded and try to find ways to promote the pop culture in even more effective ways. Otherwise the popularity could be short-lived,” he said.

Source: The Krea Times

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