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|[Nettime-nl] Biodiversiteit en videokunst|
Confronting cultural rights Cees J. Hamelink Languages are today being killed at a much faster rate than ever before in human history and linguistic diversity disappears more rapidly than biological diversity. Yet, linguistic diversity is as necessary for the sustainability of our planet as is biological diversity. There is an interesting correlation: the areas in the world with the highest biodiversity also have more linguistic density and the loss of language also implies the loss of environmental knowledge. The killing of languages is today in particular reinforced by the global spread of the free market system and the neo-liberal process of globalisation-from-above. The United Nations has recognised the existence of linguistic genocide already in 1948; prohibiting the use of the language of the group in daily intercourse or in schools, or the printing of publications in the language of the group. This is today practised throughout the world. The First International Public Hearing on Violations of the Charter (supported by the WACC) took place in early May 1999 at the Hague in The Netherlands. The theme of the Hearing ‘Languages and Human Rights’ focused on Article 9 of the PCC, which claims the people's right to a diversity of languages. The Hearing was organised in response to the prediction made by language experts that 90% of the world's languages are in danger of dying out within a century. Control over someone's language has become one of the primary means of exerting power over other aspects of people's life. At the end of the 20th century, the world's languages are disappearing faster than ever before in human history. During the Hearing, a panel of five independent judges heard witnesses who made cases in support of Creole language, Kurdish language, Sign languages, Bilingual education in California, and Berber language. Among their recommendations and opinions the judges stated that, ‘There is an urgent need for international bodies and national governments to be more energetic in guaranteeing that clauses in international covenants and in the PCC relating to language rights, to elaborate strategies for monitoring violations and for preventive diplomacy.’ Recommendations of the Public Hearing were presented to intergovernmental bodies such as UNESCO and to the national governments involved in the five cases examined by the judges. All the details on the hearing can be found in Media Development 4/1999. I would today like to put the issue of language rights in the broader context of cultural rights. An essential component in the international human rights regime, often overlooked, little known and with even weaker enforcement mechanisms than other human rights. What are these rights? The right to cultural identity [recognition of need to promote and preserve cultural diversity; recognition of different sense-making systems to enable communication and creativity and shaping who we are and want to be] The right to freely participate in the cultural life of one’s community [recognition that a society’s democratic quality is not merely defined by civil and political institutions but also by the possibility for people to shape their cultural identity; the need to realise the potential of local cultural life; the right to practise cultural traditions] The right to enjoy the arts and the benefits of scientific progress and its applications [recognition of the public nature of arts and science]. The right to protection of moral and material interests of works of culture [recognition of the moral dimension of IPR]. ð The right to the protection of national and international cultural property and heritage [particularly relevant in times of armed conflict; but also the recognition of the intellectual property of indigenous people]. The right to creativity [recognition of the essential significance of artistic, literary and academic independence]. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion The right to freedom of expression. The right to use one’s language in private and public [recognition of the need to implement the equality principle]. The right of minorities and indigenous people to education and to establish their own media. These cultural rights are seriously threatened by the process of media globalisation and although that process is complex and broad, it can be reduced to three essential dimensions. The global spread of multimedia conglomerates First of all, media globalisation refers to the world-wide expansion of media production and distribution companies that trade on the emerging global media market. This expansion is evidently facilitated not only by technological developments but largely through the pressures on countries to open their domestic markets to foreign suppliers and the concomitant neo-liberal claim that cultural products should not be exempt from trade rules. Effective operating on the global market is possible only for large-scale, integrated companies: conglomerates that combine several sectors of the media industry. These conglomerates are presently involved in a process of global consolidation which results in a strong degree of concentration. Media globalisation is, therefore, primarily the global proliferation of a small number of media conglomerates. The neo-liberal globalisation agenda that is prevalent in world politics supports consolidation, concentration and conglomeration. This commercial agenda has a strong interest in creating business links (acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures) with partners in order to consolidate controlling positions on the world market and wants to create a sufficiently large regulatory vacuum in order to act freely. In an economic environment where mega mergers are almost natural and are loudly acclaimed by financiers and industrialists, the tendency towards public control is likely to be minimal. The spread of the Billboard Society Secondly, the primary messages of the global conglomerates are of a commercial nature; they are the key vehicles in creating a Billboard Society in which people world-wide are better informed about consumer goods and where to fun-shop than about the environmental consequences of the global rate of consumption. As a result media globalisation is to a large degree the world-wide proliferation of messages that propagate global consumerism. World-wide advertising has become ubiquitous. In many countries there are hardly any advertising-free zones left. In spite of all political declarations on the Knowledge Society it seems more realistic to expect a Global Billboard Society! Whatever its local variation, advertising proclaims to the world a single cultural standard for its audiences: consumption fulfils people's basic aspirations, fun shopping is an essential cultural activity. It subjects the world's cultural differences to the dominance of a consumption-oriented life-style. People's fundamental cultural identity is to be a consumer. Advertising teaches children around the world the values of materialism and the practices of consumerism. The neo-liberal commercial agenda has strong interest in the expansion of global advertising. This implies among others more commercial space in media (mass media and internet), new target groups (especially children), more sponsorships (films, orchestras, exhibitions) and more places to advertise (the ubiquitous Billboards). The global regime for the protection of content Thirdly, the core business of the media conglomerates is content; and several of the recent mergers are motivated by the desire to gain control over rights to contents such as are, for example, invested in film libraries or in collections of musical recordings. Recent developments in digital technology which open up unprecedented possibilities for free and easy access to and utilisation of knowledge, have also rendered the professional production, reproduction and distribution of content vulnerable to grand scale piracy and made the contents owners very concerned about their property rights and interested in the creation of a global enforceable legal regime for their protection. Media globalisation represents the world-wide protection of proprietary content through the imposition of a global system of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection. With the increasing economic significance of intellectual property, the global system of governance in this domain has moved away from moral and public interest dimensions and emphasises in its actual practice mainly the economic interests of the owners of intellectual property. Today, such owners are by and large no longer individual authors and composers who create cultural products, but transnational corporate cultural producers. The individual authors, composers, and performers are low on the list of trade figures and as a result there is a trend towards IPR arrangements that favour institutional investment interests over individual producers. The recent tendency to include intellectual property rights in global trade negotiations demonstrates the commercial thrust of the major actors. Copyright problems have become trade issues and the protection of the author has conceded place to the interests of traders and investors. This emphasis on corporate ownership interests implies a threat to the common good utilisation of intellectual property and seriously upsets the balance between the private ownership claims of the producer and the claims to public benefits of the users. The balance between the interests of producers and users has always been under threat in the development of the IPR governance system, but it would seem that the currently emerging arrangements provide benefits neither to the individual creators, nor to the public at large. Consequences for cultural rights: 1. The conglomerates pose a serious risk to the diversity of cultural production and to the independent creativity of cultural workers: the conflicting interests between independent knowledge production and conglomerate political or economic interests. Commercial imperatives do not likely cater to the linguistic needs of ethnic minorities or indigenous groups. As media become industrial conglomerates they move ever further away from service to the common good to the service to commercial imperatives .The essential mission is to produce material that attracts large audiences which can be sold to advertisers. This sets limits to the independent creativity of producers. 2. World-wide advertising has become ubiquitous. In many countries there are hardly any advertising-free zones left. In spite of all political declarations on the Knowledge Society it seems more realistic to expect a Global Billboard Society! Whatever its local variation, advertising proclaims to the world a single cultural standard for its audiences: consumption fulfils people's basic aspirations, fun shopping is an essential cultural activity. It subjects the world's cultural differences to the dominance of a consumption-oriented life-style. People's fundamental cultural identity is to be a consumer. Global advertising imposes a standard lifestyle model on the world: the global fun-shopper. 3. It seems sensible that holders of copyrights want to protect their interests against theft. Even the most active defenders of neo-liberalism (the protagonists for withdrawal of the state) will encourage states to act decisively against the piracy of their properties. Protecting intellectual property is however not without risks. The protection of intellectual property also restricts the access to knowledge since it defines knowledge as private property and tends to facilitate monopolistic practices. The granting of monopoly control over inventions may restrict their social utilisation and reduce the potential public benefits. The principle of exclusive control over the exploitation of works someone has created, can constitute an effective right to monopoly control which restricts the free flow of ideas and knowledge. What can WACC do? Since 1990 the UN Committee for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been doing preparatory work on an optional protocol that would provide an right to complain. The main argument against is that these rights are not justiciable. They should be progressively realised and not legally tested or enforced. These are mainly Western arguments brought forward by governments who do not want the cultural to be effectively strengthened. WACC could and should be part of the group of NGOs that put pressure on the United Nations and that supports the UN Commission on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to adopt the protocol. This would only be the beginning. WACC could actively be involved in the mobilisation of complaints and the monitoring of the treatment of these complaints. Another field of action was presented in a report (published by UNESCO) and entitled Our Creative Diversity.1 It was written by a commission headed by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. Unfortunately, the international community has chosen almost totally to ignore this marvellous report. Among its many recommendations the report suggests that the international community establishes an independent ombuds office for the enforcement of cultural rights.2 WACC could and should support the creation of this institution. There are serious obstacles on the road towards both the Optional Protocol and the Ombuds Office. Some may even believe that in the current climate of economic globalisation it is impossible to overcome the roadblocks. Against all the odds, however, WACC should seek inspiration in the words of the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s wonderful novel Through the Looking Glass. When Alice says to the White Queen, ‘One can’t believe impossible things’, the White Queen says, ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’3 Notes 1. Our Creative Diversity. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. Paris: Unesco Publishing, 1995. 2. ‘The International Law Commission would also consider the possibility of setting up an International Office of the Ombudsperson for Cultural Rights and its relationship tp existing mechanisms for the enforcement of human rights’, in Our Creative Diversity, p. 282. 3. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Penguin, first published in 1865. Cees J. Hamelink is Professor of Media, Religion and Culture at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and Professor of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam. He was President of the International Association for Media and Communication Research from 1990-1994. He is presently editor in chief of the international scientific journal Gazette and board member of the International Communication Association. Among his many publications are Cultural Autonomy in Global Communications (1983), The Technology Gamble (1988), The Politics of World Communication (1994) and The Ethics of Cyberspace (2000). ______________________________________________________ * Verspreid via nettime-nl. Commercieel gebruik niet * toegestaan zonder toestemming. <nettime-nl> is een * open en ongemodereerde mailinglist over net-kritiek. * Meer info, archief & anderstalige edities: * http://www.nettime.org/. * Contact: Menno Grootveld (firstname.lastname@example.org).