Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

The Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the Future of the Arts—“Cultural diversity is an ongoing battle”

Luc Jabon, scriptwriter, director, SACD Belgium president, and representative of the Belgian Francophone Coalition for Cultural Diversity, September 29, 2005 – 2005/09/29

Representatives from francophone coalitions for cultural diversity met in Namur on September 29 during the city’s francophone film festival for a symposium on the theme “Cultural Diversity and the Future of the Arts.” The symposium saw the creation of a coordination structure for francophone cultural diversity coalitions and concluded with the Namur Declaration in support of the Draft Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (See our Bulletin no 29, October 11).

At the symposium, scriptwriter and director Luc Jabon, the president of SACD Belgium and representative of the Belgian Francophone Coalition for Cultural Diversity, presented a discussion paper entitled Diversité!. He cautions that even though the news is good, it’s still too early to celebrate. Outstanding issues include rapid ratification of the Convention, the negative impact of bilateral trade agreements with the U.S., interpretations of Convention articles, and questions about how the WTO will interpret the definition of culture (does it include textiles, wine, and cheese, for example?). Cultural diversity is an ongoing battle. It can’t be fought in bits and pieces. It requires a coherent and comprehensive effort that will benefit all sectors of the cultural community in equal measure.

Mr. Jabon stressed that WTO’s long term goal is to liberalize trade in all sectors of the economy. In concrete terms, this would oblige all WTO member states to accept “products” from other member countries without imposing tariff barriers, and refrain from any measures that skew competition—like favoring domestic “products” over their foreign competitors. For Jabon, imposing this free trade logic on the cultural sector would be catastrophic for creativity as we know it today. Not only would national and/or linguistic content quotas for radio and television disappear, but so would culture grants and operating subsidies. Were the French Community to maintain such measures, Hollywood studios and record industry giants could sue on grounds of unfair competition.

Mr. Jabon pointed out that another component of the U.S. strategy is to seek trade concessions on culture by negotiating bilateral trade agreements on a country-by-country basis. In the big chess game currently playing out worldwide, this forces governments to abandon their cultural sovereignty. In Jabon’s view, the entire cultural community has to act, not only to protect cultural diversity, but also to respond to new threats like the Bolkestein directive on the liberalization of services. The music and film industries are first in the line of American fire, but it is likely that the impact would eventually be felt throughout the cultural sector.

European cinema, particularly French-language cinema, is undergoing strong growth at present thanks to the various government subsidies and assistance programs in place. Along with tax measures (tax shelters, tax credits, etc.), these forms of assistance have galvanized domestic cinema in Europe and, with the help of coproduction deals between European states, helped secure film financing. Even though European measures primarily assist domestic production, they are also available to non-European filmmakers and scriptwriters. The survival of these programs is crucial to the film industry, Mr. Jabon argues. Abolishing them—even scaling them back—would put a damper on film industry creativity and filmmaker independence. This is why joint action is needed to defend the rights of European states to have active cultural policies and get involved (even more than they do now!) to support the creation and distribution of cultural works. Efforts need to be stepped up to influence governments and public opinion. Cultural diversity only makes sense when it is also part of our education and training. It is a question of civilization, concludes Jabon.