How do you define the concept of “diversity of cultural expressions”?
When we talk about cultural expression, we are talking about content, that is to say the very heart of creation, no matter what medium carries it or what form it takes. The Convention responds to an observation and a challenge that emerge from the contrasting effects of globalization in the realm of cultural industries. The fact is, the liberalization of international commercial exchanges and the development of new technologies have shaken up modes of producing and disseminating culture. The phenomenon has both positive and negative aspects. On one hand, the concentration of cultural industries that has resulted threatens to impoverish what is offered as culture. On the other, this globalization of exchanges opens up new perspectives for creation. In that context, the Convention aims to start up a positive dynamic so that all cultures may have equal chances to express themselves and all cultural expressions can be admitted.
What is the object of this Convention?
The object and objective of the text reside in the idea that works of the mind should not be subjected to the ordinary laws of commerce. This means they are recognized as having a specific nature; culture and cultures express the souls of peoples, and cannot be reduced to products that are bought and sold. The Convention establishes, for the first time and with force, that cultural products have a double nature: economic, because naturally creators have to be remunerated, but also a nature that cannot be reduced to market value and which has to do with meaning and symbolism. The Convention is trying precisely to establish a legal framework that takes into account the dual characteristics of cultural products.
How can artists benefit from the implementation of the Convention?
Artists have the same needs all over the world. They want to have a chance to express their talents, find an audience and be paid for their work. It happens that the cultural market as it stands today doesn’t make this possible. Creators have difficulty finding the means to live from their art; they are often cheated by the big cultural production firms and they find it hard to make a place for themselves in the globalized culture market. That’s why the Convention sets up international regulation principles that give public policy a role to play and organize a framework of international solidarity. It is a question of creating an environment that allows artists to improve their mobility, promotes better access to international distribution channels for their work and offers better protection of their rights.
What is the role this text can play in developing countries?
Developing countries are at the heart of this system. Facing the power of the big film “majors” or those of the recording industry, they risk seeing their traditional culture disappear and becoming reservoirs of consumers for cultural products that have no connection with their history or diversity. Therefore their urgent need is for creation of development capacities at the local level. For instance, there’s no more film-making industry in Africa and it’s almost impossible to find film. For many poor countries, there is such a handicap they don’t have any opportunity to exist in the global culture market unless they receive preferential treatment. Thus the Convention offers a framework of regulation that makes it possible to channel resources towards countries that need them. It is the only way a film from Mali or Chad can have a chance to be made and find its audience.
When countries ratify the Convention, what is their commitment?
In fact, there are different kinds of commitment. The first kind concerns all the countries that sign. It consists of promoting the flourishing of cultural diversity within the country by supporting cultural creation. In return, and in order to avoid seeing protectionism in disguise, countries pledge to open their territories to other productions, because obviously culture can’t stop at state borders. The second kind of commitment concerns industrialized countries or those already having thriving cultural industries. For those countries, it is a question of establishing a framework of international cooperation that helps to equip less advanced countries, notably by financing projects, transmitting know-how or coproductions. But those initiatives depend on States’ good will. The Convention’s success will therefore depend on the political will of states to give it content.
Interview by UNESCO's Bureau of Public Information