Cultural diversity

The Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Vol. 5, no 30, Monday, October 17, 2005

Toward adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO in October 2005: We must stay the course and keep up the pressure!

Culture and Communications minister Line Beauchamp will be the guest speaker at a luncheon seminar organized by CORIM (Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal), to take place in Montréal next November 7. Minister Beauchamp will speak on the theme The UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: Its Meaning to Québec.


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations

Recent Publications


Press Releases, Speeches, and Declarations

The UNESCO Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions : "A precondition to the emergence of viable cultural industries"

Abdou Diouf, Secrétaire général de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF),Paris, 11 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/11

In a speech last October 11 in Paris to mark the 20th anniversary of ADIFLOR (Association pour la diffusion internationale francophone de livres, ouvrages et revues), Francophonie secretary-general Abdou Diouf declared that “the Francophonie supports and defends the idea that a forceful policy is necessary for cultural diversity—the concept of which nobody openly contests—to thrive at the global level.”

As Mr. Diouf explained, “We have seen that growth in the communications, information, and audiovisual industries has been accompanied by the massive and uninterrupted dissemination of cultural products in an almost single direction. If we fail to act, this will inevitably lead to the disappearance of numerous cultural expressions, or their frightened withdrawal into communities cut off from the world. This is why we have so ardently, and even stubbornly, wished for the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions now under study at UNESCO. Only such a convention will enable countries that so wish to set out ambitious cultural policies backed by production and dissemination support mechanisms and regulating the inward and outward flow of cultural products. But such a convention must have clear authority in relation to other international commitments made by signatory states, and must be quickly ratified. This is a precondition to the emergence of viable cultural industries, particularly in the South, whose countries have not yet sufficiently harnessed the resources made available to them by the extraordinary wealth of their heritage and artistic talents.”

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The Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions within UNESCO : " It is up to our generation today to inscribe in international law that works of art and the mind cannot be treated as mere goods "

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, ministre de la Culture et de la Communication de France, Paris, 4 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/04

In a speech at UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference last October 4 in Paris, French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres stated that “one of the fundamental responses to the challenge of modern terrorism and violence resides in culture and in the preservation of cultural identities. What is at stake with the draft convention submitted for your approval is our ability to enjoy pacific and confident relations with others, that is to say, the recognition of alternate voices, the awareness of the profound equality of dignity among cultures, and faith in the freedom of artists and designers, and of peoples and societies, to express the essence of their being and their vision of the world.”

Explaining the significance of the convention that France wishes to see adopted, Minister de Vabres noted that “It is up to our generation today to inscribe in international law that works of art and the mind cannot be treated as mere goods. It is up to our generation to decide that in our age of all-encompassing trade, where anything can be bought and sold, we must reserve a special place for culture, one in keeping with the dignity of human beings (…) This is not a message of withdrawal, it is not a surrender to close-mindedness and idiosyncrasies that would justify acts of violence or fanaticism (…) UNESCO was created to serve the world, and must now save the diversity of the world.” He went on to add, “Today, we have a responsibility to take another step forward together, to make this heritage our own. In adopting the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, let us write together this new page of the history of human spirit. Recognition of diversity is not simply a cultural undertaking. It is a political ambition, the very foundation of peace in the world today.”

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The UNESCO Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at t he Franco-Québec Meeting on the Democratization of Culture

Line Beauchamp, ministre de la Culture et des Communications du Québec et Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, ministre de la Culture et de la Communication de France, Montréal, 3 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/03

The Franco-Québec Meeting on the Democratization of Culture held at Grande Bibliothèque du Québec in Montréal from October 3 to 5, brought together some thirty speakers from France and Québec. Their presentations and discussions with participants stressed the sharing of concrete knowledge and a number of measures developed by the French and Québec governments to get citizens more involved in culture. The event, which was organized by Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec and the Culture and Communications Department of the French Republic in cooperation with Bibliothèque nationale du Québec and the support of Ministère des Relations internationales and the French Consulate General in Québec, was part of the Montreal, World Book Capital festival.

At the opening ceremony, minister Beauchamp expressed her delight “in noting that this Franco-Québec meeting is fostering productive discussions between stakeholders, who are all committed to making culture as accessible as possible to all citizens. We have everything to gain from this sharing of initiatives and achievements.” Stating that the meeting was an initiative of the French prime minister and Québec premier set out in a Decision Report creating a New Franco-Québec Alliance (See Newsletter 16 of June 2, 2003), minister Beauchamp remarked that culture not only contributes to the development of our identity, but also to the economic and social development of our societies as a tool for dialog and integration. Ms. Beauchamp also singled out the main thrusts of the democratization of culture, which in Québec are founded on a government cultural policy that states, “Culture is one of the three pillars of society, along with its social and economic dimensions; creative independence and freedom of expression are fundamental values that must be protected; and access to culture is a right for all citizens, just as is access to education.”

The minister also noted the importance of the adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions within UNESCO. According to her, this convention must confirm the right of states to develop their own cultural policies without being threatened under international trade and other agreements. “The topics to be discussed during this meeting hinge on states like France and Québec, which were leaders in this international debate, being able to continue supporting through forceful cultural policies not only creativity and cultural development, but also access to culture,” the minister declared. “I hope that cooperation between our two governments continues and is renewed, given the current challenges posed by the impact of new technologies and demographic changes,” the minister concluded.

In a video message, Mr. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres stated that “Québec and France, with broad international support, have worked for many years towards a draft convention within UNESCO that will legitimize one of the main objectives of our respective ministries: support creativity and encourage its exposure inside and outside the country. The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was our joint struggle. We hope it will be adopted in the coming days so that the uniqueness of cultural goods and services will be taken into account in international law, thereby safeguarding and promoting our identities. This is crucial, as our language and culture cannot be reduced to an intellectual pastime, an educational decoration, or a mere pleasantry. It is a key protection that will shape our future, our economy, and, to a large degree, the jobs of tomorrow.”

He also noted that “Our times are marked by terrorism and violence, the spread of ethnic and religious hatred, and the temptation to turn inward. Given this, cultural policy can no longer only serve as a means to share artworks and open society to other cultural contributors. It must also work, in a more general sense, to promote cultural practices that promote tolerance, respect for differences, and the fight against all forms of exclusion or segregation, and that create a desire for us to live and create together. This essential joining together of cultural figures, artistic institutions, and all levels of government must better take into account those groups that are the least familiar with cultural institutions, namely those from deprived areas.”

Minister de Vabres also remarked that “Cultural and artistic education must equip children and young people to better judge the vast array of cultural productions made possible by the worldwide development of cultural industries as well as help them take a critical approach to the homogenization and standardization of cultural tastes and practices. This policy must tie education to respect for copyright, mainly for musical and video production.”

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Convention on the diversity of cultural expressions: Artists from all over the world committed to support the future UNESCO Convention on cultural diversity

French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Paris, October 11, 2005 – 2005/10/11

“Because states have the legitimate right to adopt and implement the cultural policies that they deem necessary for the preservation and development of all cultures; Because developing countries are in need of assistance that supports their cultural industries; Because cultural productions are not simply commercial wares, and should not be treated as such under international agreements, despite the pressure of trade liberalization felt by many states regarding cultural goods and services; And because the diversity of culture and of cultures must be maintained, without fail,” artists proclaimed their commitment to cultural diversity at a conference held on October 10, 2005, by the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, which brought together 50 professional cultural organizations.

In this respect, they called for the adoption at UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference of the future Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions recognizing the legitimate right of states to adopt and implement the cultural policies that they think best for the preservation and development of all cultures. They also saluted UNESCO’s initiative in developing the convention and affirmed that “culture should be beyond the reach of liberalism and market laws.” A number also stressed the importance of “the screen quota policy” for the Korean film industry and the challenges it is facing because of pressure by the U.S. in bilateral trade talks with Korea. According to them, “The goal of the Convention on Cultural Diversity is to ensure a fair balance between cultures.” Others noted that “the UNESCO Convention was an exceptional opportunity to adopt an international legal instrument legitimizing the involvement of government in culture.” According to the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, the Convention on Cultural Diversity has repercussions for the fate of culture around the world, and artists will be affected first and foremost by the principles it upholds.

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Recent Publications

WTO - UNESCO, Which complementarity for which cultural diversity ?

Service Études de l’ARP (Auteur, réalisateur, producteur), Paris, 10 octobre 2005- 2005/10/10

 "WTO - UNESCO, Which complementarity for which cultural diversity?" This is theme of the debate organized as part of the Beaune Film Forum to be held from October 21 to 23 in France. This debate, which will be led by the president of the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity, Mr. Pascal Rogard, will be attended by French culture and communication minister Renaud Donnedieu de  Vabres, Motion Picture Association of America-MPAA president and CEO Dan Glickman, European Union negotiator at UNESCO and WTO Julien Guerrier, Mr. Jean Musitelli, who is a member of the independent group of experts charged with drawing up the draft UNESCO convention on cultural diversity, as well as filmmaker and founding member of the Moroccan Coalition for Cultural Diversity Nabil Ayouch.

“In an increasingly globalized world, it is essential to protect the uniqueness of cultural policies. As yet, the protection of this freedom was only discussed within the WTO, an organization not that inclined to take the uniqueness of cultural goods into account, and which prefers to liberalize the trade of all goods and services (including audiovisual services). Yet recent UNESCO talks on the draft of an international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions have indicated a strong desire to protect and promote the uniqueness of cultural goods in international law. How will these two authorities (UNESCO and WTO) reach an agreement? How can their complementarity be ensured? What sources of tension will there be?” These are the questions that the authors of this preparatory note by the ARP Study Department try to resolve in describing a globalized world in the process of regulating cultural trade.

Summarizing the debate, the authors affirm that subsidy measures are generally not very effective, especially when the state budget devoted to culture is limited. Yet the U.S. has denounced the regulatory approach (e.g., broadcasting quotas) designed to promote local cultural industries while maintaining key provisions regarding electronic trade, an area in which they enjoy an unquestionable lead and whose impact on culture is increasing.

Given this, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions is a new tool to promote cultural diversity. Today, as the authors state, culture enjoys hybrid status within the WTO, since, under trade law, there is no reference (values, principles, purposes) and no prescriptive text, even though culture is part of WTO’s sphere of implementation as a marketable good or service. An international draft Convention on Cultural Diversity within UNESCO has gradually asserted itself on the international scene as a way to break this status quo. For the first time, culture would no longer be seen as an afterthought (an exception or exemption), but rather as something to be promoted. It would also mark the first time that an international legal instrument would be devoted to culture in order to make it more than a footnote in trade talks. And for the first time as well, culture would be discussed within a dedicated forum, UNESCO, without diminishing in any way its trade significance.

But what about the relationship between the WTO and UNESCO? ask the authors. They state that the Convention on Cultural Diversity would lose much of its legal effectiveness if it had to yield to other international conventions. For this reason, the Convention is as legally binding as other international treaties. According to the authors, the Convention will have real added value internationally only if an active policy to promote cultural diversity(which is not the only power states have) is set up after the Convention is ratified. The scales—with trade on one side and culture on the other—will balance only when the Convention truly has made the promotion of cultural diversity the focus of international relations.

Until then, the authors say, the fight is not over. It is obvious that the regulation and liberalization of trade is the cornerstone of the global regulation process, with relations between states seen exclusively in terms of trade. The challenge is therefore to strike a new balance by introducing a process of development and cultural exchange.

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The United States calls for a review of the UNESCO Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

Département d'État des États-Unis, Washington, 12 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/12

On October 11, the U.S. Department of State released a fact sheet on the U.S.’s concerns regarding the draft UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression submitted to the General Conference. It believes the text “was hastily drafted and its final consideration has been unnecessarily rushed.”

The U.S. fears that “member states could misinterpret the convention as a basis for impermissible new barriers to trade in goods, services, or agricultural products that might be viewed as being related to ‘cultural expressions’.” Consequently, it calls for a review of the draft. In its view, the convention “should be redrafted so that it cannot be misinterpreted to authorize governments to impose protectionist trade measures in the guise of protecting culture.”

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The Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference : "Next lone U.S. dissent is the cultural diversity pact"

International Herald Tribune , Wednesday, October 12, 2005 – 2005/10/12

As the United States sets about trying to repair its battered international image by stepping up its “public diplomacy” abroad, is it willing to risk total isolation at UNESCO in order to combat a perceived threat to Hollywood’s freedom to show its movies around the globe? wonders Alan Riding in the InternationalHerald Tribune. According to him, the final answer will come next week, but the outcome seems foretold: everything suggests that the United States will be the only country in the 191-member United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to vote against a new convention on the diversity of cultural expressions. In fact, on three procedural votes related to the convention, the United States has already stood alone: its position was successively defeated by 54 votes to 1, by 53 votes to 1 and by 158 votes to 1.”

“So what is wrong with cultural diversity?” the journalist asks. He points out that this concept has become the buzz phrase for opposition to American-style cultural homogeneity. In Washington’s view, then, this version of “cultural diversity” poses a danger. It believes that the proposed convention not only empowers governments to control culture, but it also authorizes protectionist measures that could restrict American audiovisual exports, notably Hollywood movies and television programs, worth tens of billions of dollars annually. The problem, the journalist says, is that the rest of the world disagrees—and the “rest” includes the 25 nation European Union, which currently has Britain as its president. The European Union sees no danger to artistic freedom or freedom of expression and it notes that countries are already authorized to use subsidies and quotas to bolster their movie, television, and radio sectors.

The journalist reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on the other hand, has written to member governments expressing “deep concern” about the convention, calling for postponement of its adoption and warning that it “will only undermine UNESCO’s image and sow confusion and conflict rather than cooperation.” For the journalist, “another negative American vote next week will change little. The convention will be adopted and, once ratified by 30 countries, it will go into effect. The United States will not sign it and, as with the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty and the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, will likely remain a critical—and perhaps obstructionist—outsider.”

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"The consensus in support of the draft convention on the diversity of cultural expressions is too broad for the American blockade to affect UNESCO"

Le Devoir , édition du 12 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/12

In an October 12 editorial in Le Devoir, journalist Josée Boileau says that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “can use all the power and prestige she likes, but the consensus in support of the draft convention on the diversity of cultural expressions is too broad for the American blockade to affect UNESCO. Nonetheless, U.S. actions are a backhanded illustration of just how important this convention is. For Boileau, the U.S. Secretary of State is acting in “bad faith” when she denounces the “ambiguous language” of the convention. “Were Ms. Rice to take the trouble to visit the organization’s website, she could read the anything-but-shoddy expert reports and summaries of debates that set clear guidelines for implementing the convention.”

The journalist goes on to explain that contrary to U.S. claims, the convention does not apply to culture in its broad sense—like wine for example—but rather to the various forms of “cultural expression”: music, books, the media, arts and crafts, visual arts, etc. Even the name of the convention was changed to avoid the pitfalls associated with the catch-all notion of “culture.” In the journalist’s opinion, “it takes a lot of nerve to claim to be acting in the defense of minorities whose rights are supposedly threatened by the convention, as Ms. Rice did in a letter to the foreign ministers of UNESCO member countries (see the October 11 issue of Le Devoir). In fact, the preamble of the convention stresses the importance of protecting the cultural expressions of aboriginal peoples and cultural minorities. Even more to the point, preparatory discussions last May led to inclusion of a reference to the importance of “media diversity” in the preamble—refuting U.S. fears that governments will use the convention to restrict “the free flow of information” and “freedom of expression.” Given that 550 people took part in the May discussions, we can presume that the addition did not go unnoticed. But so great was U.S. anger in the spring […] that they may not have noticed the improvement […]. In truth, nobody’s been fooled: it is not principles and minorities that have Ms. Rice and her entourage up in arms, but the exact opposite: there are too many principles in the convention! For the Americans, culture and the economy are synonymous. They cannot bear the convention’s explicit recognition that “cultural activities, goods and services have both a cultural and economic nature, because they convey identities, values and meanings, and must therefore not be treated as solely having commercial value.” Even though other countries expressed reservations about certain articles of the convention in May, the Americans were the only ones to denounce the “dual nature” approach.

Josée Boileau concludes that “this isolated position, which instead of questioning certain terms and conditions of the convention, discredits the very idea behind it, makes the prospects of a [U.S.] victory highly unlikely in the days ahead. Especially since the current American offensive, no matter how vigorous, came as no surprise. Everyone knew well in advance that the Americans would do everything they could to delay a vote this fall. The real battle has already moved elsewhere. Adoption of the convention, a UNESCO decision, is inevitable. But its ratification by each signatory state will be complicated by individual lobbying on the part of the Americans. Québec and Canada—two ardent convention supporters—are not ready to let down their guard.”

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The Draft Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference : “Will it or won’t it?”

Cineuropa - Le Cinéma européen, 14 octobre 2005 – 2005/10/14

In an article published on Cineuropa, the European film portal, Chantal Gras reports that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has extended the European audiovisual exemption for another five years just as the U.S. wages war at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris against the European-backed draft convention on the diversity of cultural expressions. This convention “will allow for national policies that provide permanent support to the audiovisual sector rather than the temporary measures authorized by the WTO.” According to the author, “the text—which will have ipso facto international legal value if adopted—is vital to maintaining long term support for the European audiovisual sector. It is scheduled to go to a vote on October 20 if everything goes as planned…because nothing is less certain.”

Ms. Gras notes that “the document has already been approved by the UNESCO Executive Council by a vote of 53 to 1 (the U.S.), with one abstention ( Australia). But the Americans are determined to fight till the end. As soon as the Paris conference opened, they called for a vote on the legitimacy of the European Commission’s mandate to represent the 25 EU member states, but were the only to vote against. Now they are playing on internal procedural issues. Under UNESCO by-laws, member countries must be in good standing to vote. Now many are scrambling to get their dues paid in order to restore their “good standing.” Because if the required 2/3 of voting members is not achieved, the vote could be postponed. The United States have even threatened to walk out. Other countries could join the U.S. camp out of fear of trade reprisals in other sectors […]. There is a risk of ending up with a sort of “cultural Kyoto.”

The author reminds readers that the idea for a UNESCO convention on cultural diversity can be traced in part to the WTO’s refusal, in Seattle in 1999, to endorse the cultural exception principle put forward by the nations of Europe (in the name of the dual economic and cultural nature of the audiovisual and film sector and its intrinsic “vulnerability”). The WTO’s main goal is to create a global market where all commodities, goods, and services circulate freely without “preferential treatment.” Subsidies, quotas, and direct incentives at the local level may all be considered as forms of unfair international competition. “Exemptions” may be accorded based on economic circumstances, but by their very nature are always temporary.

At an earlier meeting in Marrakech in 1994, WTO ministers did grant a 10 year exemption to the European audiovisual sector, allowing EU member countries to implement independent, voluntary policies in their film and audiovisual industries. The regulatory vacuum that resulted upon expiry in 2004 was filled when the WTO decided to extend the exemption until 2010 at its last meeting in Switzerland. “This is good news for the European audiovisual sector,” concluded the author, “but only in the short term.”

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