Here's a story you probably missed. In Paris on Oct. 20, the commissars of UNESCO -- the United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization -- agreed to a treaty to protect what they called "cultural diversity."
In short, it's a treaty for cultural protectionism, allowing countries to staunch the flow of American popular culture through their media systems. It's an attempt by France (surprise!) and other America-tweaking countries to create a broad exception for "culture" in the free trade/globalization debate. Culture is not a commodity, say the French, but we will impose tariffs and import quotas on Hollywood's alleged non-commodities all the same.
The UNESCO vote was, as usual, a tad lopsided: 148 to 2, the two pariahs being America and Israel. (Four countries abstained.) French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres boasted, "We are no longer the black sheep on this issue. Europe is united on this. It shares the values we have defended."
Hollywood is not happy, and for good reason. Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, warned, "No one should use this convention to close their borders to a whole host of products." He worried: "What's to stop a country saying that it'll only take 20 percent of U.S. films, or taxing our films, but not its own?" Unsurprisingly, the MPAA's take was only economic, which is a bit ironic, since most of the MPAA's press releases vent their protest against (SET ITAL) too much (END ITAL) American entertainment content in foreign countries -- when it's pirated and Hollywood doesn't get paid.
What I want to know is: Where's the outrage when the international cultural police try to censor Hollywood's exports? Why isn't UNESCO trashed as a group of uptight, artistic freedom-hating busybodies? When the American people try to question Hollywood's nightly imports into our movie theaters and television sets, the cosmopolitan elites scream about censorship and religious fanaticism. But when the censor is French, all the outrage goes out the window.
This treaty is explicit about the need for content regulation of entertainment. Article 6 says nations can take "regulatory measures" to promote cultural "diversity," and in Article 8, nations may identify "situations where cultural expressions ... are at risk of extinction" and take "all appropriate measures" to preserve them. So Iran can tremble at the cultural threat of "Baywatch" and no Hollywood-loving libertine can be found to mock this? Frank Rich, call your office.
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