Feb 07 2005

Does Cultural Diversity Require Exceptions?

Published by at February 7, 2005 10:05 pm under Global Culture,Globalization

The idea of promoting cultural diversity around the world sounds reasonable enough. It recognizes that everyone profits from the free flow of ideas, words and images. It encourages preservation of, say, indigenous traditions and minority languages. It treats the cultures of rich and poor countries as equals. And, most topically, it offers a healthy antidote to cultural homogeneity.

Try turning this seemingly straightforward idea into an international treaty, however, and things soon become complicated. Since October 2003, the 190 members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have been working on what is provisionally called the Convention on the Protection of the Diversity of Cultural Contents and Artistic Expression. It is meant to be approved by consensus this fall, but don’t count on it. There is still no agreement on the convention’s final name.

That, though, is a minor issue compared with more fundamental differences. Led by France and Canada, a majority of countries are asserting the right of governments to safeguard, promote and even protect their cultures from outside competition. Opposing them, a smaller group led by the United States argues that cultural diversity would best flourish in the freedom of the globalized economy.

A fresh bid to break the deadlock is under way at the headquarters of Unesco in Paris, where delegates and experts are wrestling with hundreds of proposed amendments to the convention’s first draft. Yet the more they advance toward concrete definitions, some delegates believe, the less likely they are to reach consensus.

The reason is simple: Behind the idealistic screen of cultural diversity, weighty economic and political issues are at stake.

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