Protecting Europe's cultural diversity


EUROMEI meeting

A growing concentration of media ownership poses a threat to Europe's cultural diversity, warned media, entertainment and arts trade unionists meeting in Budapest.

The Euro-MEI General Assembly urged the European Commission to do more to ensure a genuine choice for the public through a new Directive and called for steps to protect cultural diversity.
Delegates had a progress report on efforts at the United Nations' cultural agency UNESCO in Paris to hammer out an international Convention - which Euro-MEI backs - to give states the fundamental right to determine their own cultural policies.

This is seen as creating a counterweight to moves at the World Trade Organisation to open up the sector to free market forces - a move that could undermine national efforts to preserve cultural identities.
The Conference called on the WTO to recognise the Convention once it is approved "in order to exclude culture from international trade negotiations".
Delegates also backed calls to defend national and European funding of film industries in countries trying to compete with the domination of Hollywood and its distribution networks - and called for more overall funding to reflect last year's accession of ten new EU members.

Substantial funding for public service broadcasting to ensure their financial independence and ability to produce quality programmes is one key to preserving cultural choice, decided the General Assembly.
Delegates also condemned censorship in a debate that centred on the hounding of UK playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti into hiding and the closing of her play Behzti in Birmingham after violent protests from some members of the Sikh community and harassment of BBC staff by some members of the Christian community over the broadcasting of the stage hit Jerry Springer – the Opera.

"We want to encourage the cultural diversity of this whole region," said Heinrich Bleicher-Nagelsmann, of verdi Germany and Vice President of UNI-Europa's media, entertainment and arts sector. "It's not only about supporting one's own culture but about respecting other cultures as well and fostering these cultures."

There may seem to large numbers of TV channels to choose from but, increasingly, they are owned by a small number of big companies chasing the same market segments and with their own agendas.
"Volume does not guarantee pluralism or diversity," said Susanne Baekgaard, FAF Denmark, echoing a keynote contribution from Wolf Ludwig of Comedia Switzerland.

Jim McKee and Debora Abramovicz reported on the efforts of the Coalitions for Cultural Diversity, which are actively lobbying UNESCO over the proposed Convention.
"The objective is not to be protectionist but there should not be one dominant culture. People should have access to their own culture," said Debora.

Karoly Dulo, of SAECH Hungary reported on moves by his union to give professional training to Hungary's biggest ethnic minority - the Roma - and moves by one TV company to provide professional training to the many Hungarians living in other countries. "We have to consider the culture of minorities," said Karoly.
"We should refuse to accept great liberalisation as proposed by the WTO," said Laure Maze-Benhaddou, of CGT France.

"Are we going to hand our culture over to the audio visual merchants of the temple?" asked Stéphane Pozderec, of SNTPCT France. "All they want to do is to sell their advertising."

William Maunier, also of CGT France, described of popular reality TV as "garbage television" and reminded delegates of a famous graffiti "Each morning I wash my brain with television".

"If we want to help public service broadcasting (which in France depends on advertising for 50% of its income) maintain some quality output, something has to be done," said William.

"The health of a society is a measure of its plurality," said Daniel Olmos of FCT-CC.OO, Spain.