Ottawa, 2 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- More than 20 countries were represented at an international meeting of culture ministers held this week in Ottawa. The meeting was called by Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps to discuss ways of protecting national cultures in a world of free trade and big business.
The most conspicuous omission from the meeting was the United States which was not invited to attend although the U.S. Ambassador to Canada was there as an observer. Many of the nations at the session share Canada's concern about the dominance of American films, books and music. Copps has said repeatedly in recent months that alliances need to be formed to fight against what she calls a "global monoculture."
The ministers agreed to create a new culture network and to continue working on a more formal international arrangement. They also agreed that culture should be separated from world trade agreements and actively nurtured through both domestic and international efforts. As well, the ministers will examine the idea of creating a new global culture television network.
Mexico will host the next gathering of culture ministers and Greece will host the meeting in the year 2000 as a culture summit. Canada has agreed to set up a secretariat for the next year.
At the end of the session in Ottawa on Tuesday, Copps made it clear that the group intends to continue operating without the United States. She told reporters that "the interest is to have ministers of culture network on a regular basis, that would necessitate that the countries involved in the network have ministers of culture and the U.S. does not have a minister of culture."
However, the president of Mexico's National Council for Culture and the Arts, Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, said at the news conference that he does not see any problem with having the U.S. at the table.
He said: "Culture is open by definition, so we are for the diversity. I think every country has a distinct way of organizing itself culturally and, in the case of the United States, there is no office or ministry or council or secretariat for culture...I think what the minister (Copps) is talking about is the difficulty of having only one point of view."
Greek culture minister Evangelos Venizelos says the ministerial network will help develop practical applications for decisions made at existing cultural organizations.
He said that: "Networks are often more flexible and sometimes more practical and what we need to do is to support UNESCO's (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) conclusions in a practical way and to promote co-operation among represented countries."
Copps says the new group will be different from UNESCO "because, as an independent body, it would have more power to influence international policies. The belief is that if you make it simply the formalized arm of any international organization, you might limit its flexibility in having input into things like trade agreements and other international exercises."
Italian representative Vincenzo Vita says the idea of a new global TV network met with a lot of support: "I think we can have another world TV. The liberalization in the television market is a problem for all of us and so, we need to have another form of all-news television."
In recent years, Canada's cultural policies on film distribution and magazine publishing have been challenged by the United States at the World Trade Organization. While the disputes have not yet been resolved, Canada's position has been that culture is not a commodity and should, therefore, not fall under international trade agreements.
The Ottawa meeting was called as part of Canada's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.