Cultural diversity

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UNESCO debates cultural diversity - Obstacles continue to threaten the adoption of a convention

Line Beauchamp, minister of Culture and Communications , Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, vice-premier, minister of International relations and minister responsible for La Francophonie , Quebec , February 7, 2005 - 2005/02/07

In a column published in Le Devoir du 7 février 2005, Mrs. Line Beauchamp, minister of Culture and Communications and Mrs. Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, vice-premier, minister of International relations and minister responsible for La Francophonie , discuss the 2nd Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts on UNESCO's Preliminary Draft Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions which was held in Paris from January 31 at February 12, 2005. While pointing out that "the Canadian and Quebec governments were among the first to officially express their support for an international instrument on cultural diversity that recognizes the right of States and governments to support their culture," they stress that the Canadian government has a duty to maintain the leadership role it has held on this issue since 1998. They feel that this attitude "guarantees a greater international movement and the consolidation of the support necessary for the adoption of the convention." Addressing the concern expressed by the canadian Coalition for Cultural diversity "regarding the conclusion of governmental expert meetings within the established timeframe, namely, before the UNESCO's next General Conference in the fall of 2005," they point out the need to remain "cautiously optimistic" in this regard. "While we should be pleased with the results achieved in recent years, it would be both unwise and irresponsible to let our guard down and ignore the obstacles that still need to be overcome so that a convention that is satisfactory to Quebec is adopted by the majority of countries."

In fact, according to Mrs. Beauchamp and Mrs. Gagnon-Tremblay, "cultural goods and services deserve special treatment." This is the key issue for the future Convention. They state that until now, public debate in Quebec has tended to support certain particular aspects of the issue, such as the relationship to other instruments or trade agreements. While they acknowledge that this is an important topic, they warn, "We need to avoid focusing our concern too exclusively on one aspect so that we don't lose sight of the obstacles threatening the success of the entire draft." In this regard, they state that Quebec is pursuing three objectives:

  • The adoption, in 2005, of a good convention. "For us, a good convention will guarantee the right of States and governments to support their creators and creative industries while stressing an openness to cultural expressions from elsewhere. It will be on equal footing with other instruments and trade agreements and will be accompanied by an effective monitoring and dispute settlement mechanism. Such a convention must be well defined, recognize the specific nature of cultural goods and services and establish the rights and obligations of States and governments."
  • The 2005 deadline is important as the growing number of multilateral and bilateral negotiations are continually and progressively reducing the capacity of States and governments to support culture.
  • The adoption of the convention presupposes that negotiations will lead to the majority - if not the totality - of UNESCO Member States adopting it. Even the best convention will be worthless if it fails to win over the majority. Herein lies the greatest challenge: ensuring that the project is not distorted or toned down while remaining acceptable to the majority. On this point, they note that persuasion and mobilization efforts are being launched by governments supporting the convention and civil society alike. However, they add that these efforts alone will be insufficient unless they are based on concrete proposals that meet the needs of the countries at which they are aimed.

Mrs. Beauchamp and Mrs. Gagnon-Tremblay also point out that another issue for the Convention consists "in proposing solutions that are appropriate for countries whose production and cultural expression challenges are different from our own." According to them, "In certain respects, the draft convention is a call for solidarity between rich nations and developing nations. The recognition of such a responsibility and the commitment regarding cooperative measures for development are perhaps the conditions for a result that is satisfactory to everyone." In this regard, they stress that a large group, namely developing nations, have particular expectations of the convention. "For many of them, it is not only necessary to protect their capacity to support their cultural industries in the future, but first to help them establish those industries. The right of a country to support its artists and protect its cultural expression cannot belong exclusively to rich countries."

To this end, they are pleased that the international Organization of La Francophonie adopted, at the 10th Sommit of the Heads of State and government of La Francophonie held in Ouagadougou last November , a resolution encouraging members of La Francophonie to commit, in the spirit of solidarity, to various actions supporting the preservation of cultural heritage, the support of creators and the distribution of cultural expressions in developing countries, and to support activities aimed at the transfer of knowledge and skills to those countries and the use of various international financing mechanisms. Quebec , a participating government and member of La Francophonie , actively supported this resolution. [05-05]