- BTS’ recent success on the Billboard Hot 100 list has reignited conversations in South Korean society about whether or not pop stars should be exempt from military service.
- Currently, the vast majority of Korean males are required to serve in the army by the Korean age of 30.
- There are some limited exceptions that proponents of K-pop stars point to, notably that Olympic medalists and acclaimed classical musicians can be exempt for “raising the international prestige” of South Korea.
- BTS has never stated they wanted any exceptions, and one member is expected to join the armed forces by the end of 2020.
BTS’ Record At Center of Debate
BTS’ recent success as the first Korean group or singer to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week has reignited discussions within South Korea over mandatory military service.
For nearly 70 years, South Korea has mandated that all able-bodied men must serve in the military by the time they’re 30-years-old, in Korean age. (Due to differing aging conventions between Korea and most of the world, this would coincide to between the ages of 28 and 29).
In some circumstances, there are alternatives to military services, like prolonged civil service. These service requirements have meant that some of the largest entertainment acts in South Korea have their careers effectively put on hiatus until the service is complete. For example, the group Big Bang was riding worldwide success in 2015 with their “MADE” album and world-tour before top members like G-Dragon and T.O.P. left for military service.
The group has struggled in other ways, but that service heavily altered the appeal of Big Bang. There have been calls within South Korea to modify the required service requirements for pop artists. Back in 2019, there were discussions whether BTS would be allowed to gain exemptions, but by November the government made it clear that wouldn’t be the case.
However, after their recent success on the Billboard charts, Representative Jeon Yong-gi, of the ruling Democratic Party, submitted a motion to revise the military service requirements and allow pop stars to defer their military service if they raise national prestige.
Such exemptions already exist to a certain extent. For example, Olympic medalists and international award-winning classic musicians are exempted from serving under current laws in recognition of their work to promote Korea overseas. Between 2008 and July 2018, about 280 artists and 170 athletes have been exempted from military service.
Exceptions vs. Deferrals
Rep. Jeon’s motion isn’t asking that pop stars receive the same exemptions, only that they are allowed to defer their service past the age of 28, saying, “Deferrals and exemptions are two separate matters. We have to provide choices to postpone service to those in other fields that can only flourish in the 20s,” as quoted by Yonhap News.
However, other lawmakers, like Independent Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, countered that if athletes and classical musicians can receive exemptions for awards, why couldn’t pop stars?
“There was a football player who was offered an exemption by playing for just four minutes at the 2014 London Olympics. Some estimate that the economic effect of BTS amounts to 5.6 trillion won (US$47 billion) and even larger than a single Olympic Games event,” the lawmaker wrote on social media.
For their part, BTS has never suggested they were trying to skirt military service, stating back in February of this year that they would do their duty. This is particularly relevant for Jin, the oldest member of the group, who needs to enlist by the end of the year, although Big Hit Entertainment has said that he could potentially delay his draft until the end of 2021.
BTS’ military enrollment is a subject not only watched by fans worldwide, but also financial analysts. Their studio, Big Hit Entertainment, is expected to go public next month, hoping to raise nearly 1 trillion won ($840 million). Despite having other large acts on its roster, the state of BTS at the time of launch is expected to heavily affect the price of the 7.1 million new shares.
See what others are saying: (Fortune) (Bloomberg) (Yonhap News)
200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing
The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16.
Children Missing From Hotels
There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.
When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.
In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.
Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.
Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”
Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing.
However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.” The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.”
Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline.
The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)
100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History
Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”
The NHS Grinds to a Halt
Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.
The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.
Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.
When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.
In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”
Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.
The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.
During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.
Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament
Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.
“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”
“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”
Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”
Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”
“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”
While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.
Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.
If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.
Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)
Fortnite Developer Sued By Parents for Making the Game as “Addictive as Possible”
One child mentioned in the lawsuit played over 7,700 rounds of Fortnite in two years.
Epic Games Sued
A Quebec City judge recently approved a 2019 class-action lawsuit accusing Fortnite developer Epic Games of deliberately making Fortnite addictive.
The parents who brought forward the lawsuit claim their children have become so obsessed with the game that in some cases, they’ve stopped eating, showering, or socializing. The lawsuit claims that these kids have played thousands of games since Fortnite’s release in 2017. In one example, a teenager played over 7,700 games in less than two years.
If the lawsuit succeeds, players addicted to Fortnite living in Quebec since September 2017 could receive compensation. The plaintiff’s attorney, Philippe Caron, reports that over 200 parents outside the lawsuit have reached out to him, saying their child’s well-being has diminished since downloading Fortnite. He told The Washington Post that they are very confident about their case.
Epic Games Responds
“We plan to fight this in court,” Natalie Munoz, a spokesperson for Epic Games said to The Post, “We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless.”
Munoz also said that Fortnite does allow parents to supervise their child’s playtime and require permission for purchases.
The parents involved in the lawsuit are claiming that they were not aware of the dangers playing Fortnite could pose for their children.
“If she had been informed by the defendants of the risks and dangers associated with the use of FORTNITE,” the lawsuit says of one guardian. “She would have categorically refused to allow the game to be downloaded.”