Sunday, December 27, 2015

What does UNESCO do to protect cultural diversity?

Most people know UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention (1972) that created the famous World Heritage Sites. But few know about UNESCO’s cultural convention from 2005 that protects and promotes the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Nevertheless UNESCO’s 2005 Convention directly influences the diversity of our daily cultural environment: music, architecture, media and so on. At least that is what the 2005 Convention is supposed to do: it was ratified by 140 UNESCO Member States to prevent our cultural environment from being dominated by a limited number of cultural conglomerates. Star wars is very nice but we should also be able to see other movies that have smaller marketing budgets and that come from our own countries.

How does the 2005 Convention protect the diversity of our cultural environment? It does this by stimulating the international community to design policies that give cultural services and products an equal chance to be enjoyed by all citizens. It promotes the exchange of best practices which are contained in this monitoring report: here's the link, and here’s the summary. The report presents the concrete results and findings after 10 years of implementing the Convention. It presents four aspects of promoting cultural diversity, which are described below.

1/ Make cultural policies that favor diversity

  • Two innovations have fundamentally changed the functioning of the cultural production and distribution chain: technology (mobile connectivity, smartphones, iPods, evolving digital environment) and the media who use this technology (Netflix, Facebook, e-commerce). The good thing is that they open up channels for new voices and talent. This need to be encouraged.
  • On the other hand the increasing number of media outlets and greater choices doesn’t mean that these outlets are necessarily ‘freer’ nor that they are a guarantee of diversity of content and expressions. Therefore governments need to analyze how leveled and inclusive the cultural and creative sector is. They need to keep an eye both on the big and small players but also on freedom-of-information laws, internet governance and e-commerce. Do they still favor cultural diversity? The report suggests that these items be included in the scope of the Convention.
  • The report also reminds us that it’s not only up to governments to ensure cultural diversity: civil society has a role too as producer of cultural products and as ‘cultural watchdog’. The report suggests that more partnerships are needed between governments and civil society, namely to ensure a diverse offer of cultural products and also to help assess the impact and effectiveness of cultural policies.

2/ Balance the flows of cultural goods and services

  • Flows of cultural services such as audiovisual media are very unbalanced. They are still largely dominated by developed countries. In 2012 for example the US covered more than half of the global exports of cultural services (52,4%). The developing countries’ share was only 1,6% versus 98% (!) for developed countries.

  • Trade agreements can correct this by balancing the flow of cultural goods and services on the basis of principles laid down in UNESCO’s 2005 Convention. This already started happening: the report observes an increase in the number of ‘cultural exemption’ methods to exclude some cultural goods and services from trade agreements. But it remains rare. And although the number of references made to the 2005 Convention in trade agreements has increased, the impact of this needs to be assessed.

  • To preserve a heterogeneous world of ideas, values and worldviews the mobility of artists and their free access to international markets is crucial. Currently artists are still unable to travel freely in some parts of the world.

  • The growth of e-commerce is a booster of development but also a risk for small and medium-sized players given the advance of the big platforms.

3/ Recognize culture as factor of sustainable development

  • Development always takes place in a cultural context. Taking this cultural context into account provides economic benefits like the jobs generated by the creative and cultural industry. It also provides social outcomes like the raising of community awareness and participation. Artistic activity provides social cohesion by breaking down social barriers, reducing tensions and promoting intercultural dialogue. Artists can also be powerful ways to build national identity and reputation, also for developing countries. Lastly, the cultural sector can provide environmental outcomes via the adoption of green design principles and the use of the arts as a vehicle for environmental education.

  • Sustainable development means inclusive development, and cultural policies are powerful tools to ensure participation of all groups in this development. An example is Slovenia, which has introduced cultural policy measures to enable recognition of the rights of the Roma people.

4/ Recognize culture as an aspect of human rights

  • Women are strongly represented in the creative sector in most of the world. However they remain poorly represented in a number of cultural professions and decision-making positions in the cultural sector. For example only 3% of top classical music conductors is female. The report stresses the need for better access to the creative potential of the female half of the artistic community.

  • Artistic freedom of expression is an issue. The NGO Freemuse registered 237 attacks on artistic freedom in 2014 which is only the tip of the iceberg. As UN Rapporteur for Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune said: “We still live in a world where poets are sentenced to death”. To protect artistic freedom it needs better reporting.


We had to wait 10 years for this first monitoring report for the 2005 Convention but the next one is now planned in 2017. This is encouraging news. Because monitoring reports like this enable conventions to do what they are supposed to do: they give countries an overview of what is happening in the field and the opportunity to inspire and learn from each other. But this overview – and this is the report’s main message – needs more and better information from countries about their cultural policies and their impact in the field. Because a clear picture of cultural diversity policies requires reporting and therefore indicators, (sex-disaggregated) data, evaluation frameworks and impact assessments. Let this message be heard because however tedious and boring data collection may be, it is the hand that takes the blindfold off our eyes so that we can properly see and control the way our cultural environment evolves.

Twitter: @Oosterenvan

No comments:

Post a Comment