The Korea Herald


Media watchdog restricts foreign language use in TV ads

By 옥현주

Published : Dec. 27, 2015 - 18:17

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South Korea’s state-appointed media monitoring agency said Sunday that it has set out specific guidelines to restrict the use of foreign languages in TV commercials.

According to the guidelines for the nation’s broadcasters by the Korea Communications Standards Commission, TV advertisements are now banned from containing foreign languages or songs for more than 15 seconds -- half of the 30-second time slot.

The regulation covers the narrative of product slogans, company names and catchphrases spoken or written in foreign languages. When foreign languages are used, Korean subtitles should be added to offer enough information for local viewers, the agency said.

The current broadcasting law states that TV commercials must use a standard language, abide by rules for Korean spelling system and loanword adaptation. It also prohibits unnecessary use of foreign languages.

But there has been no specific clause stipulating the time limit for foreign languages in TV ads.

“To reflect the growing use of foreign languages in TV commercials and better enforce the law, we specifically set the time limit for foreign language use in TV ads,” the agency said.

In February, French cosmetic brand Christian Dior and Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo were cautioned for using all-English narrative of their products -- perfume J’adore and clothes Heattech, respectively -- in their ads that aired on cable-TV channels last year.

The KCSC offered recommendations to the companies, addressing the public role of language used on TV.

“The society has become more accepting of English and the use of foreign languages reflects the changing social atmosphere. But those who are not familiar with English or having difficulties in reading Korean subtitles can possibly be excluded. And a flood of foreign language use can have an impact on teenagers,” the agency said in its deliberation.

According to reports from the National Institute of Korean Language obtained by Jung Jin-hoo of the minor opposition Justice Party, a total of 6,815 TV commercials and programs breached the “correct” language use rule on TV last year.

Of them, 31.9 percent were caught after using unnecessary foreign languages, followed by 25. 7 percent having errors in subtitles, 10.9 percent using online words and 10.1 percent using defamatory language.

But the guidelines will likely rekindle a long-held debate over the state’s restrictions on commercial freedom of expression.

The controversy dates back to 2002 when the then-industry ministry suggested that the media agency allow advertisers to use foreign languages and songs in TV ads to help companies better promote their brands amid globalization.

The advertisers’ association campaigned to scrap restrictions on foreign language uses in TV commercials, saying that such a ban stifles freedom of expression and creativity. It also added that the ban discourages multinational companies from promoting their image, fails to live up to global standards and fails to meet consumers’ diversifying tastes.

The claims, however, triggered resistance from the Culture Ministry and Korean language advocate groups which voiced concerns over its adverse impact on Korean language and culture. 

In a report by the Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation published in 2003, the state-run agency claimed that foreign language in TV ads could undermine the development of Korean language, enhance Korean’s perception that foreign languages are more elegant and accelerate westernization of Korean culture, the report said.

By Ock Hyun-ju (