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What should, or can, the Culture Ministry’s new Hallyu department do?

Industry insiders, experts concerned about impact of direct government involvement in Hallyu promotion


The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is due to establish a separate department within the ministry to support the Korean Wave by June or July at the latest.

While the ministry declined to give a specific opening date for the new department, saying it will make the announcement when the details have been confirmed, the decision was made on May 12 during the meeting of a pan-government Hallyu cooperation committee, which includes representatives from 12 ministries.

While this marks the first Hallyu-related government department, it is not the first time that the government is attempting to play a role in the promotion of the Korean wave, each time against resistance from the industry who feared government meddling in what is essentially a private sector initiative may have the opposite effect.

In 2015, the government launched a task force team with Korean Broadcasters Association, an association of terrestrial, to support Hallyu led by private companies. Also back in 2012, the Culture Ministry launched an advisory committee of 19 leading figures in the country’s cultural scene to discuss ways to keep Hallyu going.

“We heard about the launch of the new department last year,” Korean Broadcasters Association official Lim Bo-bae told The Korea Herald. “The government has not requested anything officially. But since it has been hoping to unite different awards to create one representative drama awards for Korea, we are expecting that to happen.”

The association, which runs the Seoul International Drama Awards, also added that it sees a need for a separate department to act as a control tower in charge of organizing and promoting Hallyu events.

While some see the creation of the Hallyu department is seen as a positive move, there are concerns about the government interfering in the Korean entertainment markets. Some Korean entertainment insiders argue that the government should define the new department’s role clearly before creating it.

Government-led Hallyu promotion?

Many entertainment industry experts are especially concerned about the government engaging in additional promotion of Hallyu.

“The way cultures are promoted has changed due to digitization. For instance, BTS fans are doing all the promotions for their group. The government cannot play this role,” said Park Shin-eui, a professor at Kyung Hee University’s Center for Arts and Cultural Management.

“Also the Korean Culture and Information Service is already doing a lot of Hallyu promotion, such as organizing concerts and events. They also host contests, providing Korea tour tickets to the winners. A large portion of Hallyu promotion is already being done by them,” Park added.

“Given that the Korea Creative Content Agency and Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange have been actively engaged in marketing and promoting Korean pop culture exports for years, I’m not really sure what a new Hallyu division within the ministry will actually do that hasn’t been tried or done already,” an entertainment industry insider said on a condition of anonymity.

Some experts suggest that if the government plans to be involved in Hallyu promotion, it should focus on genres that have not received much attention.

“It is easy to focus on already popular Korean cultural content for which there is high demand, such as games, K-pop, Korean dramas and movies,” said Chie Hae-won, author of “Broadway Broadway,” a book on cultural management.

“K-pop idol music is not the only Korean music. For instance, there are indie artists, trot singers and many traditional fusion musicians. BTS promotion can easily draw attention and achieve quick results, but the government should focus on diversification,” Chie added.

Seeing the big picture

“The government’s role should be focused on creating a better and more sound entertainment market,” Park said. “For instance, for the K-pop industry, the government should work on the trainees’ unfair contracts. Establishing laws addressing this kind of unfairness in the market is what they should do.”

Some industry experts suggest the Korean government focus on global branding while preserving the country’s originality.

“BTS sang their song in Korean and succeeded. But this does not mean that the fans love them because they are Koreans. It shows that it is crucial to keep the originality of our unique culture while marketing it as a global brand,” Chie said. “This should be applied to promoting diverse different genres of Korean culture.”

The experts also stressed the importance of studying the Hallyu trend and the global culture scene before starting any projects.

“It is crucial to do an in-depth study on how the Korean content attracted fans. If they use this (Hallyu department) to quickly achieve some political goals, it will not work,” Park said.

“At the moment, we have to keep our eyes on content that is simultaneously used in different platforms,” Chie said, pointing to Naver’s streaming service as an example. “Naver’s online paid streaming concert ‘Beyond Live’ is an example of the new trend. The government should also study this new trend.”

Industry experts also point out the need for creating long-term plans.

“Considering the Korean government officials often rotate positions every two years, I have my doubts that such a special Hallyu department will actually be led by experienced industry specialists,” said an industry insider.

By Song Seung-hyun (