Vol. 5, no 34, Monday, November 14, 2005
L’UNESCO adopte la Convention sur la diversité des expressions culturelles lors de la session plénière de sa 33e Conférence générale
Ms. Line Beauchamp, Minister of Culture and Communications of Québec, and Ms. Liza Frulla, Canadian Heritage Minister, at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference
IN THIS ISSUE :
“Quebec is the first state in the world to approve the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions,” said Québec premier Jean Charest in applauding the unanimous vote of the National Assembly on November 10 in favor of the government’s motion that the National Assembly approve the international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, adopted at the 33rd session of the UNESCO General Conference on October 20.
As explained in the November 11 issue of Courrier parlementaire, the Québec National Assembly was probably the first parliament in the world to study, debate, and unanimously ratify the UNESCO international Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, by a vote of 106 for, 0 against, and 0 abstentions. Québec played a leading role throughout the adoption process at UNESCO, and this approval by the Québec parliament is more than just symbolic. That is why Premier Charest declared, “With this Convention’s approval by the National Assembly, we’ve turned an important page in our cultural and diplomatic history. While Québec stepped up as a leader in the defense of the special nature of culture in international trade negotiations, today it has become the first government in the world to approve the Convention. I am proud of this unanimous vote, which illustrates the attachment Quebecers feel toward our creative talents.”
In Paris, where the adoption of the Convention at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference appeared a given, culture and communications minister Line Beauchamp told the media on October 14 that “We need to start the diplomatic push for ratification and rally support (…). Québec wants to be one of the first governments to approve the Convention, and the National Assembly will be the scene of a historic ceremony in November.” This approval has come barely one month later. Minister Beauchamp also mentioned this initiative by the National Assembly of Québec, adding that “The next steps will be crucial. We also have to ensure that the Convention is ratified and implemented by as many UNESCO member states as possible. This will be a long process, and Québec will continue to play an active role.” In this respect, she applauded the Canadian Coalition for Cultural Diversity for everything it had achieved and said she was convinced that the Government of Québec and the Coalition “will keep working together to continually better defend and promote our culture.”
Extolling the merits of the Convention, Minister of International Relations Monique Gagnon-Tremblay considers the National Assembly’s approval of the Convention a recognition of her government’s work, “its responsible attitude, the balance and maturity of its diplomatic efforts that were both discreet and effective, all conducted in a climate of positive collaboration with the federal government. This shows what Québec can accomplish on Canadian delegations in the future.” In the minister’s view, “we have to make the most of this success by Québec diplomacy to ensure progress gets made. The premier, my colleagues at Culture and Communications and at Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, Québec’s foreign representatives, and I will do everything we can to make sure our foreign contacts understand how important it is that the UNESCO Convention be ratified widely and quickly. Personally, I will take advantage of the Conference of Ministers of the Francophonie in Madagascar to raise my francophone colleagues’ awareness of the importance of such ratification,” she declared.
Claude Béchard, Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, added that “The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is just what we need. It will be a reference tool for states facing pressure to liberalize their cultural sectors and help legitimize their cultural policies on the international stage.”
Official opposition leader Louise Harel also commented, saying “Today, we celebrate the success of an enormous effort that began right here in Quebec—to convince the world of the need for an international instrument on cultural diversity (…). Now, the debate is in the capitals and nations of the world. This Convention must be ratified by 30 member states (…) but we hope that within the given timeframe, these states can adopt the Convention as quickly as possible for the wellbeing of their peoples.”
Official opposition critic Daniel Turp, referring to the role of the Parliamentary Committee on Culture that studied the text of the Convention proposed to UNESCO member countries, declared “I believe that we’ve taken a new step forward, because for international commitments as significant as the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions we are about to approve, parliamentarians should take a greater role, to ensure that parliament is involved in concluding these international commitments, not the government alone.” For this Convention, in fact, members intervened both before and after its adoption to signify their approval. As such, he declared, “This Convention may help keep the world’s cultures alive and their cultural diversity and the diversity of cultural expressions. I hope the Convention will enable them to enrich humanity’s shared heritage more than ever before, and that it will be a very part of this enrichment.
Line Beauchamp, Minister of Culture and Communications of Québec, Montréal, November 7, 2005 – 2005/11/07
Guest speaker at a luncheon seminar organized by CORIM (Conseil des relations internationales de Montréal) in Montréal last November 7, Québec culture and communications minister Line Beauchamp gave a talk on the theme The UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions: Its Meaning to Québec. This Convention was adopted at UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference on October 20. At the seminar, Ms. Beauchamp stressed Québec’s commitment to culture and talked of the meaning of the Convention and its importance to Québec, as well as the remarkable international efforts in support of the Convention by governments, culture communities, and professional associations around the world.
In this respect, the minister declared that “It is important to clearly understand that the Convention’s adoption is only the first step in a process that has only just begun. We must not view it as a final text of law. Instead, we must interpret it as a living mechanism that has been newly born and now has to develop. This Convention is the foundation of an international instrument with both legal and political force.” That is why the next steps are so important, including ratification. The minister considers the requirement that at least 30 states ratify the Convention for it enter into effect to be a minimum goal. “The real target is much higher. The more countries that ratify it, the greater the Convention’s legitimacy and political weight. We therefore have to continue encouraging action to secure as many ratifications as possible, as quickly as possible. Canada’s representatives said they intended to proceed quickly. In Québec, we plan to have this Convention approved by the National Assembly on November 10 (editor’s note: and they succeeded!).” To the minister, “this diligence by Québec will be a source of inspiration for the UNESCO member states that have to ratify it. Québec has every intention of continuing to lead the fight, and we will take every opportunity in our contacts with the international community and civil society to encourage the states that signed the Convention to ratify it quickly,” she asserted.
The next essential step is putting the Convention into effect. In this regard, the minister maintains that its implementation mechanisms will contribute to attainment of the Convention’s objectives, and the Convention’s vitality will depend on the force party states are willing to give it. The minister went on to say that Québec will also have to stay alert as to other concerns that threaten cultural policies. While it may be comforting that this “umbrella policy” for trade liberalization processes has been adopted, it is still important to keep an eye out, since technological progress places considerable stress on governments’ ability to put cultural policies into effect.
In Ms. Beauchamp’s view, the current state of trade liberalization is making many aware of the benefits of globalization with a human face, which may make the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions a benchmark for other sectors.
In this paper, Professor Ivan Bernier analyzes the process of implementation of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted last October 20 at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference. According to the professor, three issues are likely to have an impact on Convention implementation: the convocation of the first meeting of the Conference of Parties, the makeup of the Intergovernmental Committee, and the organization of the work program for the organs in question. Once the organs of the Convention are in place, the issue of monitoring Convention implementation will also have to be addressed by the signatory states. If we are to achieve tangible results, Professor Bernier feels that we must begin to take action right away.
However, he warns that “This paper on Convention implementation is in no way an exhaustive review of the question. It simply aims to spur reflection in areas that could speed implementation and build support for the Convention. It would be most regrettable, after the Convention’s adoption by the General Conference and ratification by the required number of States, to see it fail through poor implementation. The best way to avoid this is to prepare now for the implementation phase, as if it were about to begin.”
Mr. Ivan Bernier is an emeritus professor at Université Laval’s Faculty of Law in Québec City, Canada. He is one of the independent experts appointed by the UNESCO Director-General to develop the preliminary draft Convention on the Protection of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expressions whose final text was adopted last October 20 by the UNESCO Member States in a plenary session at UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference
Enjeux internationaux, No. 9, October 2005 – 2005/10
In its recently released ninth issue, Enjeux internationaux—an independent quarterly devoted to international relations, development, and contemporary political, economic, social, and cultural issues—has published a 27 page special on cultural diversity, humanity’s shared heritage that must be preserved. For editor-in-chief Anne-Marie Impe, this is the main goal of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on October 20 at UNESCO. In this issue, authors from various countries shed light on diverse facets of this key issue, exploring beyond the scope of the Convention itself. They also tackle questions and problems raised by pluralism.
The feature entitled Faut-il avoir peur des États-Unis? (Should we be scared of the United States?) stresses the importance of ratifying the Convention, “failing which the ‘cultural exemption’ approved by WTO until 2004, and extended until 2006, could definitively lapse, leaving government-sponsored cultural support measures vulnerable to complaints, and without any legal grounds for their defense.” The magazine quotes Québec’s minister of culture and communications, Line Beauchamp, who calls the Convention “a fight crucial for our survival.” Philippe Suinen, who is in charge of external relations for Belgium’s French-speaking community, points out that “in order for cultural goods to circulate freely, they must first exist, an existence threatened in many countries due to the lack of public funding.” Fadila Laanan, minister of culture for Belgium’s French-speaking community, argues that the “Convention does not aim to limit the unrestricted circulation of goods, but protects our right to support our public television broadcasters and local stations providing a public service.”
The quarterly also drew attention to African support for cultural diversity: “For them, it is not only a matter of protecting themselves against the American and Western cultural tide, but also of having the means to develop their own cultural products. If we don’t want to wake up one day with an American-dominated commercial monoculture in place, that struggle is just as important as protecting cultural goods against market forces.”
Open Society Institute's EU Monitoring and Advocacy Program (EUMAP) and Media Program, October 11, 2005 – 2005/10/11
On October 12, the Open Society Institute (OSI) released a major study on television in Europe written by a group of some 20 specialists. On the basis of its research, OSI believes that concentration of ownership in European television is jeopardizing its “diversity and pluralism as well as its editorial independence.” The study concludes that the development of commercial television has led to strong concentration in the European industry, where some 4,000 channels exist and where nine out of every ten households has a least one television set. Over the past decade, private broadcasters have fallen “into the hands of a few media groups” whereas the bulk of national viewership (up to 80% in Bulgaria, Croatia, and the Czech Republic) “is concentrated on a limited number of channels, usually no more than three.”
Concentration of ownership threatens European cultural diversity by limiting pluralism. The study notes that since the introduction of commercial television in the mid-1980s, Vivendi and Bertelsmann/RTL have emerged as the two largest European players in the industry. In Central and Eastern Europe, Bertelsmann/RTL is among the largest pan-regional operators. Other giants include the American company Central European Media Enterprises (CME), which reaches some 80 million viewers through nine channels in Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Poland, and Ukraine; Sweden’s Modern Times Group (MTG), which operates in the Baltic countries, Hungary, and soon the Czech Republic; Robert Murdoch’s News Corporation group, which owns the biggest channel in Bulgaria; and the European group SBS Broadcasting, which is active in Hungary and has just invested in Romania.
As Le Nouvel Observateur reports, the study also reports on the lack of transparency surrounding some of the investments, acquisitions, and mergers of the past decade, with true ownership sometimes concealed behind offshore interests. Often, concentration of ownership extends beyond the audiovisual sector to other media, as in Slovakia, for example, where OSI notes that local magnate Ivan Kmotrik owns shares in three TV stations and in the country’s largest newspaper distribution network. In many post-communist countries, the current audiovisual landscape stems from “chaotic” changes carried out in the absence of clear policies or a legal framework, as in Poland, where there were over 57 illegal broadcasters in action in the early 1990s.
Moreover, the study found that throughout Europe—where average viewing time has increased to three hours a day—the development of commercial television has led to a decline in quality content. Most private stations rely on low-end entertainment and “sensationalist” programming to pull in larger audiences, whereas certain private investors use the stations they control to promote their commercial interests, notably in Romania, Albania, Serbia, and the Macedonian Republic. In the face of this situation, Europe has been unsuccessful in implementing regulations respecting pluralism, transparency, and viewer protection, deplored OSI, which listed several urgent recommendations to this effect.
The report is comprised of three volumes and a summary. There are also monographs on individual countries.
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.
At the invitation of Mr. Mame Birame Diouf, Senegalese minister of culture and president of the INCP, the 8th Meeting of Ministers of Culture of the INCP Members States will be held from November 21 to 23 in Dakar, Senegal. “Cultural Diversity, Social Cohesion and Sustainable Development” is the theme of this year’s meeting, which will provide an important venue for exchanging views on the role of cultural diversity as one of the driving forces for intercultural dialog and its role in development strategies.
This 8th INCP Annual Ministerial Meeting comes hard on the heels of the adoption of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO’s 33rd General Conference in October 20, 2005. Given that Convention implementation requires a minimum of 30 ratifications, the INPC Meeting will be a forum of choice for ongoing efforts to secure ratification by the largest number of countries
The 8th INPC Annual Ministerial Meeting will also be an opportunity for ministers to pursue important discussions on the outcome of the UNESCO General Conference regarding the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and strategies for the ratification and implementation of the Convention. Ministers will also have the opportunity to engage in an in-depth dialog on a number of broad cultural policy issues, including the impact of culture on the economy. In addition, INCP ministers will have the opportunity to dialog with members of the International Liaison Committee of Coalitions for Cultural Diversity—which is comprised of 31 coalitions for cultural diversity now in existence from 31 countries—as well as INCD delegates.
The INCP is an informal international forum where national ministers responsible for culture can explore and exchange views on new and emerging cultural policy issues and develop strategies to promote cultural diversity. Sixty-seven countries are currently members.
The INCD Sixth Annual Meeting will take place in Dakar, Senegal from November 17 to 20, 2005. INCD will be looking at the final results of the terms of the Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions that was adopted at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference on October 20. INCD will also examine the development of cultural capacity and creative industries, and the challenge of better balancing global trade in cultural goods and services in order to achieve greater cultural diversity. In a followup to the World Summit on the Information Society, INCD will discuss issues of media ownership and pluralism, public access, and the content being delivered by the digital networks. Furthermore, all delegates to the INCD meeting will have an opportunity to interact informally with the culture ministers at a joint social and cultural event on November 20.
The theme of the 6th Annual Meeting is Cultural Diversity, Social Cohesion and Sustainable Development: Cultural diversity for human development, alleviating poverty, overcoming inequality and promoting empowerment