State Dept. holds second briefing on UNESCO Convention

Free Press

On Wednesday, July 27, 2005, the State Department held a second public briefing to discuss their work in the negotiations of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity. Government delegates from over 180 countries have negotiated the final text of the proposed Convention on Cultural Diversity (CCD). It will be submitted to the UNESCO General Assembly in the fall of 2005.

Speakers at the State Department briefing included:

Jane Cowley, Foreign Affairs Officer, US Department of State
Marguerite Sullivan, Executive Director, US National Commission for UNESCO
Wendy R. Leibowitx, Legal Editor, BNA's Electronic Commerce & Law Report
Nancy E. Weiss, General Counsel, Institute of Museum and Library Services

The briefing began with an outline by the State Department representatives on the essence of human rights and free flow of information, what they felt should be included in the document. The briefing ended with their explanations of why the State Department refuses to support the Convention. Jane Cowley stated that the US had made numerous attempts to change the document, yet other members were unwilling to include the US recommendations. The US amendments have been rejected.

Cowley stated their impression of the document as being relatively anti-American, open to misinterpretation, and excessively vague. Others warned that the Convention would allow governments to control the flow of information into their nations, possibly in a way that supports their own interests. They were concerned this would lead to the governments only allowing expression of the state's party line, despite the fact that the document is intended to promote minority expression and true localism.

The Convention was initially intended to be an international legal agreement to implement the principle that culture cannot be reduced to a commodity. It was meant to allow each country to exclude its cultural policies, including those affecting media, from trade agreements. Civil society organizations have called for the text to include references to the importance of the public domain, fair use, and the creative commons. They are currently analyzing the final text
and deciding whether it should be supported, supported only with
certain amendments, or opposed.

The US delegation does not support the Convention, but said there was little they could do to change the Convention before the October vote in the UNESCO General Assembly.