One independent producer (PD) died in July. Devoted to nature documentaries, he used to say, “I want to change the world. People can change by watching my work, and I can do anything if the world becomes positive!” The cause was a car accident, but some people ascribe his death to the “social environment.” To save production costs, he drove the car himself in an unfamiliar place in Africa late at night without a local coordinator, which led him to death.
In what environment do the independent PDs and outsourcing companies make programs, and how do broadcasters treat them? The Argus looked into the reality and examined the causes and solutions for the difficult situation the PDs are going through.
Independent PD: a producer who works as a freelancer or belongs to an outsourcing production company.
Outsourcing production company: a company which receives orders for making programs for terrestrial TV channels, cable channels, and government enterprises, and delivers those programs to them. It is also referred to as an independent production company.
Outsourcing: a system adopted to overcome the harmful effects of exclusive production by broadcasting companies and improve the competitive power of the domestic broadcasting industry by bringing life to diverse production subjects.
Bad working conditions due to lack of budgets
Broadcasting companies expect outsourcing companies to make quality programs without providing them with sufficient budgets. As a result, independent PDs have to work harder to make up for the situation.
The late two PDs, Park Hwan-sung and Kim Kwang-il, who died in a car crash, had been filming a documentary called “Docu Prime-King in a Cage” for the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS). They were supposed to film under the budget of 70 million won (about US$60,000) per episode. However, this is far from average cost required to shoot a long-term overseas documentary.
According to standard production costs set by British public broadcaster BBC, the budget for a one hour long documentary is set at a minimum of 75 million won (US$65,000) to a maximum of 750 million won (US$654,000).
Considering the price difference between the two countries, the money EBS planned to give to the PDs was below the minimum, leaving the producers on their own?to put together a decent film under insufficient costs.
According to The Korean Independent Producers & Directors’ Association (KIPDA), when PDs go abroad to shoot, they usually form a team with an assistant PD, a writer, a local coordinator and a driver. However, the late Park and Kim did not have enough production money to hire a driver, so they had no choice but to drive the car by themselves to save money.
Park Jung-nam, an independent PD, agreed that independent PDs are always short of production funds. They have to handle every miscellaneous task themselves all the time. He said, “In some cases, a PD may hold a steering wheel with one hand while the other hand shoots a driving scene with a camera. This behavior risks lives, but these circumstances are inevitable.”
Independent PDs without basic rights
Independent PDs are excluded from social protections: social insurance and laborer’s three primary rights.
First, they are not guaranteed four major insurances: national pension, health insurance, unemployment insurance, industrial accident compensation.
According to a survey on workers’ human rights done in 2015 by KIPDA national pension coverage for independent PDs was only 43.7 percent. Things are notably more serious in terms of unemployment insurance and industrial accident compensation, which can only be obtained through workplaces. Admission rates for them are 12 percent and 13.1 percent respectively.
What is worse is that independent PDs cannot form a trade union due to the lack of their three primary labor rights: the right to organize, the right to bargain collectively and the right to take collective action. Among these, the right to bargain collectively allows the producers to form a labor union to negotiate working conditions with their employers. Without the protection of a “union,” independent PDs do not have the power to systematically protest even when they are verbally abused or assaulted.
Arbitrarily set production costs
Generally, broadcasters control the procedure of appropriating the production budget because there is no standard production costs in the Korean broadcasting industry. In the process, the circumstances of independent PDs and outsourcing companies are often overlooked.
According to an article, “Proper Production Cost for Producing, the Necessity of Standard Form for Contracts” written by Song Kyu-hag, president of KIPDA, Korean broadcasters have no budget criteria. Usually they decide the budget, and outsourcing companies cover the deficiency by winning sponsorships from businesses, local governments and public institutions. In this way, financial plans in contracts between independent PDs and broadcasters are left unclear.
Consequently, Korean independent PDs almost always experience a shortage of money because the broadcaster ignores not only the characteristics of the program but also the production environment. Substantive details such as shooting period, location of the filming and actors are often not taken into account when deciding on the production budget.
An independent PD Park Jung-nam explains that “If the broadcasters produce their programs on their own, they do not need indirect costs like production fees and personnel expenses when filming. In contrast, an outsourcing company needs extra money to cover all of the indirect costs, but the broadcaster does not care about that.”
Independent PDs not regarded as laborers by law
Employment of Korean workers can be categorized into three types: direct, indirect and special employment. Independent PDs are classified as special employees because they are deemed to be individual businesses (self-employed people) rather than general workers. They are not under the protection of the Labor Standards Act, and they cannot form a union. This means that the broadcasters have the legitimacy to not consider independent PDs as workers.
Special employees and wage earners are divided based on employment, economic, and group dependency. Group dependency is about the degree of importance of the work employees are doing and how much money they bring into the company.
The broadcaster - the employer - often tries to deny the special employees’ traits as workers. It seeks to manipulate the law by distorting the relationship with independent PDs. As a result, they are seen as not doing anything significant for the broadcaster nor are they bringing money to the broadcasting company. Independent PDs are deemed to be just “apprentices” of the broadcaster, eventually not satisfying the legal requirements for group dependency.
Thus, independent PDs cannot form a union. The organization in which all the workers gather and voice their opinions against the employer is a labor union. However, independent PDs are not counted as “workers” from the start, so there cannot be a union of independent PDs.
Introduction of standard production costs
Rather than letting the broadcaster set the budget for production arbitrarily, there should be norms for appropriating the cost of making programs.
In the case of the advertising industry, the Korea Commercial Film Maker Union discusses with advertising agencies and announces the “standard unit cost of production” every two years considering the inflation rate, and companies make up an estimate sheet accordingly.
In the U.K., broadcasters define the proper cost for production as “Indicative Tariffs,” which they officially create every two years applying the rate of inflation. A British channel specializing in subcontracted programs called “Channel 4” analyzes all the financial data of broadcasters and outsourcing companies to yield the most suitable standard production costs.
By taking into account the genre, the scheduled air time and the estimated profits and value-added through the distribution of the program, Channel 4 settles the norms for the production costs.
Standard production costs can be a reference point for ensuring fair trade between the broadcaster and the outsourcing company, according to a thesis, “Settlement of the Standard Form of a Contract in the Broadcasting Field and the Future Outsourcing Production Market” written by Lee Man-je, a professor of mass communications and journalism.
Guarantee of workers’ rights to special employees
There need to be institutional strategies that can help special employees like independent PDs enjoy basic rights such as the four major insurances, and laborer’s three primary rights.
It is best to amend the law to put special employees into the category of general workers, but if that is impossible, the government must do something so that workers’ rights are ensured for independent PDs.
To take the examples of foreign countries, as the forms of special employment increase, they are granted various protective measures. In the U.K., the National Labor Relations Act is applied to special employees even if they are not workers who made an employment contract with a company. In Germany, special employees are called “similar workers,” and they are protected under collective agreement (labor union act), the occupational safety and health act (four major insurances).
As special employees are denied the formation of a labor union, they sometimes organize an association like KIPDA. The problem is that this organization has no legal force, so they cannot demand proper rights on behalf of their members. If organizing a union is impossible because independent PDs are not “workers,” the government must at least ensure them the right to bargain collectively by granting them the same power as a legal labor union has.
An independent PD Park claimed, “There are many independent PDs who are suffering because there is no labor union for them.” In order to form a healthy relationship between the broadcaster and the independent PDs, it is necessary to have an organization like a labor union so that they can both stand on the same line and negotiate on equal terms.
“When we got to the very spot where the accident took place, the late PD Park’s watch was found, and it was still working. Seeing this, I thought that although the lives of the two PDs ended there, the hands of a watch are moving in the hope that the people remaining will achieve the things the two passionate PDs could not finish,” said the wife of the late PD Kim. The dismal reality of outsourcing production companies and independent PDs, both of whom were implicitly taken advantage of under the name of “practices,” was revealed at the expense of two earnest PDs. Their deaths should not be forgotten and many people should have an interest in the chronic problems within broadcasting industry. The enthusiasm and dreams of independent PDs to create good works should not be shackles of poverty and humiliation.
Reporter of Culture Section