La Libre Belgique, february 2, 2005 – 2005/02/02
Cultural professional representatives from 21 countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, Canada and Quebec, as well as African and Latin American countries, met last week to defend the adoption of a treaty that would truly enable countries « to take measures to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions ». They state that the treaty « must not be subject to other international agreements,” and “must carry the same weight as other international agreements, including trade agreements ». The treaty’s objective is to guarantee a legal framework for the right of countries to support the creation and circulation of creative works on a national and international scale, in order to prevent globalization from threatening and impoverishing cultural expressions. The major issue being debated by UNESCO is therefore the ratification in October of a new convention that would allow governments to support the creation, production, promotion and distribution of these arts as a means to protect artists from the invasion of a global, commercial culture. According to AFP, cultural professional associations within the international Liaison Committee (ILC) of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity (CCD) are campaigning for the existence of such a convention, which would be able to stand up to the aims of the WTO, an organization that intends to reduce culture to a material good, for which any government aid would be prohibited.
In the same column, Monique Dagnaud, a specialist in media regulation, points out that this debate, which has been underway for years, “mainly concerns staple cultural goods, such as music, film, audiovisual programs, and books,” and that the markets for these products, in which the United States greatly profits, are unequal. She also maintains that the Convention “will strengthen countries that support the protection of the cultural exception and further the cause of developing countries seeking to develop their own industries.” However, she stresses that the progress of negotiations will largely depend on the attitude of the United States: « Generally speaking, everyone accepts the principle of cultural protection, including the United States. However, they appear ‘cautious ». On this subject, Guy Duplat reports, « The United States, which rejoined UNESCO 3 years ago (sic) after a 19-year absence, is opposed to the ratification unless it is stripped of its substance by limiting it to its purely cultural aspects ». When questioned about this issue during an official three-day trip to Belgium, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr. Koïchiro Mastsuura, stated, « We have other conventions that protect cultural diversity, such as those on tangible and intangible cultural heritage and the traffic of cultural property. The United States is not alone. This debate comes under the jurisdiction of the Member States. I don’t have a compromise to present between the opposing arguments, and I don’t have much leeway ».