TTIP, public service media and cultural diversity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

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Ten years on from the adoption of the UNESCO Convention, its principles are more relevant than ever today and have a crucial role to play in any future transatlantic trade deal, writes Jean-Paul Philippot.

Jean-Paul Philippot is President of the European Broadcasting Union and Administrator General of RTBF, the Belgian francophone public broadcaster.

Anniversaries can be a time of great joy or great sadness – a time to celebrate or a time to commemorate. In the case of international commitments, however, anniversaries are also a time to take stock of progress.

This week (20 October) marks ten years since the adoption of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Since then, the vast majority of UN member states, along with the European Union, have signed up to its principles.

The Convention gives all signatory countries and regions the right to promote and protect cultural expressions in their territory – and recognises the role of public service media as a measure to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions. In Europe, public service media invest over €20 billion in content every year, and broadcast a majority of domestic and European content (84% average).

Crucial principles of the Convention go hand in hand with the recognition of public service media’s role and their contribution to society:

  • Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – notably freedom of expression, information and communication;
  • Countries’ sovereign right to adopt measures and policies to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions within their territory;
  • Equitable access to a rich and diversified range of cultural expressions from all over the world.

The Convention also commits signatories to take into account the provisions of the Convention when entering into other international agreements. The question is whether these principles are being applied in practice.

The ten year anniversary of the Convention comes at a time when one of the most potentially significant international agreements in recent memory is currently being negotiated. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may bring huge economic benefits – but it should be able to do so without compromising the principles of cultural diversity.

For public broadcasters, the objectives of the UNESCO Convention are more relevant than ever today. Economic constraints and increasing consolidation in our sector is placing ever greater pressure on the unique role of public service media in Europe. We need to make crystal clear that securing a deal on services under TTIP cannot be at the expense of our cultural heritage and values.

It should not be forgotten that unlike the European Union, the USA is not a signatory to the UNESCO Convention, and has not made its negotiating position on TTIP public. In order to be effective in practice in the final agreement, the protection of cultural diversity should be across the board to avoid any potential loopholes now and in the future.

In practice, this means including a binding horizontal clause recognising the sovereignty of signatories, including EU member states, over their cultural and media policies – a point supported by a recent European Parliament resolution on TTIP.

It is also important that the audiovisual exclusion in TTIP is clearly tied to the principle of technological neutrality – as per the EU negotiating mandate. This principle is clearly acknowledged in the definition of cultural diversity in the UNESCO Convention, and audiovisual services should continue to be defined on this basis in any future deal.

The European Union played an essential role in the creation and adoption of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on cultural diversity. Ten years on, it is important it continues to live up to its commitments.

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