Korea’s culture chief cites BTS’ $960-M economic effect in backing their military service exemption

The head of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) has thrown his support for a proposal to exempt Grammy-nominated K-pop group BTS from military service and cited their effects on the country’s economy.

Minister Hwang Hee proposed to establish a system that will allow pop culture artists to be transferred to art personnel. This will allow them to fulfill their military obligations under alternative programs instead of serving as active duty soldiers.

BTS at the Grammy Awards backstage (Twitter)

All Korean men are obligated under the law to enlist in the military by age 28. A new law that was passed last December and took effect last June allowed BTS members to postpone their military service until age 30.

But a new amendment to Korea’s Military Service Act is being proposed that will allow BTS and other pop artists to have an alternative service.

“We urge the National Assembly to pass the amendment to the Military Service Act as soon as possible,” said Minister Hwang.

The MCST said pop culture artists are the core driving force of the Hallyu (Korean Wave) craze and said it is necessary to provide them opportunities to make a greater contribution to the country with the same support as fine artists and sportsmen.

Currently, Koreans who won in international and domestic music and dance competitions, at least a bronze medal in the Olympic Games and gold medal at the Asian Games are allowed to have an alternative service. They are considered as people who have contributed to the promotion of national prestige and cultural development.

Minister Hwang cited the production inducement effect of BTS whenever they hold a concert. Citing data from the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, he said every BTS concert creates a production inducement effect, or the economic value in related industries, of up to 1.22 trillion won ($960 million) and employment inducement effect of up to 10,815 people.

“Recently, in a situation where there are conflicting arguments for and against some BTS members ahead of their military enlistment, I thought that someone should speak up responsibly,” said Minister Hwang.

He added, “Pop culture artists spread the Korean Wave around the world, contributing to Korea's rise as a country with high cultural power.”

He said that despite the achievements of pop culture artists in promoting national prestige and their skills are at their peak, they have no choice but to suspend their activities due to the fulfillment of their military service obligations.

Under Article 33-8 of the Military Service Act, arts and sports personnel granted military service exemption are still required to fulfill their service for 34 months.

“Art and sports personnel shall be under the direction and supervision of the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism regarding the development of special skills in the relevant fields and regarding their mandatory service. Art and sports personnel shall engage in voluntary activities by utilizing their special skills regarding arts and sports,” according to the law.