South Korean military scraps celebrity conscript system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 8:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 8:52pm

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence announced on Thursday that it would end the controversial ‘entertainment soldier’ system, which allows conscripted celebrity soldiers to serve as publicity agents and entertainers for the armed forces, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

The move comes after local broadcaster SBS aired a video last month of celebrity conscripts going absent without leave to drink and visit massage parlours after performing in a concert hosted by the defence ministry.

After the video aired, Koreans were outraged at what they considered to be a lack of military discipline and special treatment for celebrities.

In response to the criticism, defence officials conducted a special audit and announced that they would scrap the system altogether. “The audit revealed that the purpose of the unit has been tarnished and has lost the trust of the public” the ministry said.

Eight soldiers featured in the video – two of whom are popular singers Sangchu (Lee Sang-chul) and Seven (Choi Dong-wook) – face disciplinary action for violating the code of conduct, including behaviour such as using mobile phones, going absent without leave and visiting bars and clubs.

Five officials in the Defence Media Agency will also be disciplined while six others received warnings.

In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required to serve in the military for a minimum of 21 months because technically it is still at war with North Korea.

Since 1997, ‘entertainment soldiers’ have served in the Defence Media Agency, a unit that produces radio and television broadcasts to raise morale and boost the image of the military.

The unit, however, has come under fire for the relatively lax lifestyles and frequent leave enjoyed by entertainment soldiers.

Previous audits of the military have shown that celebrity conscripts take a higher-than-average number of holidays.

The unit attracted controversy earlier this year when Korean pop star Rain, whose real name is Jung Ji-hoon, was punished for going on a date with a popular Korean actress while on duty. Jung was discharged last week.

At present, there are 15 entertainment soldiers in South Korea’s armed forces and starting on August 1 they will be reassigned to field units. Civilian entertainers or regular soldiers will be asked to perform in future military productions or concerts.