The Global Network of Snobs

The Global Network of Snobs

Hrab Op-Ed from National Post (Canada)
January 28, 2004

Cultural creativity is big business in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />America.  According to the most recent data from Economists Incorporated, U.S. "copyright industries"—including recording companies and Hollywood studios—export US$88.97-billion worth of their wares each year.  These industries represent about 5.2 percent of America's GDP.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

But not everybody sees this as a success story.  Global cultural snobs in Canada, Europe, and the Third World take the popularity of American music and movies as a personal affront.  They have quietly devised a scheme to cut back the worldwide flow of U.S. cultural exports.

This scheme is known as the International Network on Cultural Policy (INCP).  Formed in 1998, its core membership includes the governments of Canada, Croatia, France, Greece, Mexico, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, but Canada deserves special credit in nurturing it.  Indeed, the cultural ministers from around the world who founded INCP did so in Canada, at the invitation of Sheila Copps, then minster of Canadian Heritage.  Canada is now part of the group of nine key member states that "provide direction and leadership to the Network." Canada is also active in INCP's effort to draft a global cultural protectionist treaty.  And Canada plays host to the INCP's Liaison Bureau, which acts as a sort of informational clearinghouse for INCP members.

INCP claims that its purpose is to act as "an informal, international venue [where members can talk about] new and emerging cultural policy issues and consider integrated ways to promote cultural diversity."  These empty platitudes hide a well-defined agenda.  To understand what INCP actually represents, let us turn to French President Jacques Chirac.  In a speech delivered days before a February, 2003, INCP conclave in Paris, he outlined INCP's agenda in terms of an epic global battle. Chirac claimed that, "the champions of unlimited trade liberalization are once again lining up against those who believe that the creations of the mind cannot be reduced to the rank of ordinary merchandise," and accused these unnamed cultural free traders of seeking to foist cultural "products pre-formatted for the masses" on an unsuspecting world.  He didn't identify these faceless profit-minded philistines, but there can be no doubt his barbs were aimed at the United States.

President Chirac's dislike of American cultural products' mass appeal isn't just fodder for angry speeches.  Like Canada, his government maintains restrictions on the distribution of U.S. cultural products, which make it difficult for the public to enjoy them.  Take television.  France sets broadcast quotas that, according to the United States Trade Representative's office, form "a significant barrier to access of U.S. programs to the French market."  France uses a similar quota system to limit "the broadcast share of American music" on French radio stations.  The French government, in effect, thinks it knows what French people should be watching and listening to.

Chirac likes this restrictive system so much that he wants the whole world to follow France's lead. In the same February speech, he proposed "the adoption by the international community of a world convention on cultural diversity," to codify "the right of [governments] to support the arts through proactive policies, appropriate action and mechanisms of their choice."  In short, Chirac wants an international treaty that gives heavy-handed governments the right to impose a potentially limitless array of restrictions on American movies, music, books and other cultural products.  France and other INCP member states hope the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will work with INCP to help set up such a regime by 2005.

It's passing strange that the new Paul Martin regime in Ottawa—which says it wants to improve relations with Washington—would allow Canada's cultural mavens to continue to flirt with INCP, whose exercise in cultural protectionism is so obviously directed against the U.S. The Bush administration, not to mention trade hawks on Capitol Hill, will eventually retaliate against this rank hypocrisy.