Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cultural Censorship

Last week, the delegates to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted 148-2 to approve a measure described by the Washington Post as being "designed to protect movies, music and other cultural treasures from foreign competition." The Post further outlined the UNESCO proposal as follows:

Called the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the document approved Thursday declares the rights of countries to "maintain, adopt and implement policies and measures that they deem appropriate for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory."

Cultural expressions are defined as including music, art, language and ideas as well as "cultural activities, goods and services."


The United States and Israel cast the only two no votes.

In essence, the measure is a thinly veiled effort to allow countries to keep out American books, movies and other items. As Neil Hrab has pointed out, Canada and France were at the forefront of this measure. Both countries have long sought to erect barriers against American cultural products. In Canada's case, the use of "cultural content" laws has forced Canadian radio and television stations to play a large perecentage of Canadian-made programming, regardless of the wishes of the audience.

Of course, as Hrab also notes, the measure was supported by the likes of Iran and Zimbabwe, and not surprisingly. After all, the resolution gives dictatorial regimes a virtual license to keep out unwanted books, films, and ideas. The next time Fidel Castro wants to confiscate and burn books, he can simply point to this document and say he is protecting the cultural diversity of Cuban literature from being overrun by corporate Yankee imperialism.

No one forces people to watch American movies or read American books. If you're like me and can't stand the majority of what Hollywood produces, then don't go see it. If you want to protect your own local film industry, try encouraging them to make movies that people will want to watch. Limiting people's access to products and ideas is simply another form of censorship.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Ed Merwin, Jr. said...

Maybe, just maybe, the populace of some of these countries the American products that would otherwise be banned. I would hope that some Germans, Finns, Italians, etc. might see this UN document as an infringement on the sovereingty. But then, maybe this is only an "American thing".

11:53 AM  
Blogger Norma said...

"Limiting people's access to products and ideas is simply another form of censorship."

Can we expect ALA to post a condemnation of this banning? Probably not. Librarians use this method regularly to "ban" material by just not collecting it, then publish lists of "banned books".

5:44 AM  

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