If you were watching television Sunday night in Sydney,
Australia, you had a choice between the American sitcom "Everybody
Loves Raymond," and a couple of US movies: "Meet the Parents" and
In fact, 76 percent of all new programs launched on Australian TV
in the eight months prior to April 2003 were foreign shows, mostly
American. Australia's largely Made-in-USA television diet is part of
the background to a new round in the global culture war begun here
Talks are starting on a United Nations treaty designed to help
countries protect their native cultures in the face of what many
characterize as the homogenizing effect of Hollywood. It's the kind
of pact that Washington sees as likely to hamper free trade and free
expression - as well as hurt profits.
The UN convention on cultural diversity, championed by Canada and
France at the head of some 60 European and developing countries,
would take cultural goods, such as films, plays, and music, out of
the realm of trade negotiations. It would exempt them from free-
trade rules, allow governments to protect and support their cultural
industries, and enshrine the "cultural exception" that European
nations have defended in international law.
Behind this emerging conflict in UNESCO, the UN Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization, lies a debate over whether
trade in cultural products should be governed by different rules
from those for other commercial products, and what role governments
should play in protecting national identities in the face of
The clash, pitting the United States and a handful of other
skeptics against the majority of UNESCO members, comes less than a
month after the US rejoined the UN agency after a 19-year absence.
If such a treaty were passed, suggested French President Jacques
Chirac in an address to last week's UNESCO general conference,
"peoples and states concerned for their identities will open up to
the world with greater confidence."
On the contrary, argued Terry Miller, who headed the US
delegation to the meeting. "A convention to control the flow of
cultural ideas, products, or services," he said, "is a perfect
example (of) an easy answer to globalization ... to try to shut out
the rest of the world."
Washington, he explained, also feared that a convention
recognizing governments' rights to apply cultural policies could be
a tool that abusive governments might use against minorities.
The plan for a legally binding convention, he said, was "a bad
"It is up to the individual to decide what he should see," Mr.
Miller added in an interview. "Why should a government impose its
choice on a citizen?"
That, say proponents of a convention, is the view from the cab of
the cultural steamroller that is the US entertainment industry.
The view from the tarmac, they argue, makes it clear that far
from limiting choice, government intervention is the only way to
guarantee it in many countries. …