Cultural diversity

News Releases / Speeches / Declarations

Adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO: “ To allow states to support their movie industry ”

Bernard Gournay, member of the French National Committee for UNESCO, Paris, October 21, 2005 – 2005/10/21

In an interview published in LeNouvel Observateur, Mr. B ernard Gournay, a member of the French National Committee for UNESCO and author of “Exception culturelle et globalisation” (Presses de Sciences Po, 2002 (Coll. La bibliothèque du citoyen)), stressed the objectives of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted by UNESCO. According to him, its main objective is to “give all states the ability to maintain their cinema, television, and radio in view of the WTO. But it is not enough simply to recognize this right—states need to be able to produce films or have public radio stations or television channels. TV and radio have the right to be backed by public authorities, which is a huge struggle at the international level. Murdoch, who possesses the commendable quality of being frank, has said before, “Death to the BBC,” explaining that government subsidies for the British channel either needed to cease altogether or be extended to him as well! The goal of the Convention is to allow all countries to use modern methods to support the development of their culture, to allow all artists to produce. And international assistance systems need to be maintained. As we know, the European Union finances African cinema, the Council of Europe is helping Eastern European countries get back into movie production, and the Convention makes it possible to maintain these types of assistance or to create new ones. ”

He also added that “the problem of cultural diversity is often not well understood. This Convention discusses ‘cultural diversity and artistic expression,’ and therefore obviously includes not only theater, painting, and dance, that is to say, artistic expression, but also cultural diversity in a broader sense that includes national traditions. In response, the Americans immediately claimed that UNESCO wanted to promote traditions inherited from a past that go against human rights, referring to female circumcisions still being practiced in certain African countries or the act of burning women in India. But UNESCO was very clear in its reply that it would never support traditions that go against human rights. The goal of the Convention is to allow all human communities to express themselves and participate in an exchange, with each viewing the other as an equal. It appears that this is something the Americans do not want to hear.”

Moreover, Mr. Gournay finds it “ridiculous” for the United States to vote against the Convention based on the argument that the Convention, by celebrating distinctive identities, may lead to a sort of cultural depletion. In his opinion, “the Convention will in no way restrict the flow of culture, and films in particular—a major fear for the Americans. Private channels and cinemas will continue to broadcast American films, and you will still be able to find anything you want in stores on DVD. It changes nothing. We may see new broadcasting quotas for European films, but how does this hinder the broadcast of American films?” he wondered.