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The Importance of Cultural Diversity
[Interview] Jean-Jacques Aillagon, TV 5 Monde president
Park Young Shin (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-03 10:39 (KST)   
I interviewed Mr. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, President of the TV 5 Monde, a public cable TV channel in France, on Feb. 13. Prior to his commitments with the TV 5 Monde, he served as Minister of Culture and Communications in France from May 2002 to March 2004. While he was in office, he was actively engaged in preliminary work to draw up the "International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions" (hereinafter the "Convention on Cultural Diversity"). He also worked with the National Art and Cultural Centre Georges Pompidou as president. Indeed, he is a central figure in the cultural community in France, and also a close friend and advisor of President Jacques Chirac.

But, more importantly, Mr. Aillagon is a political leader of France's ruling party, the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), and is cautious in speaking out about diplomatic affairs. Therefore, he was careful in phrasing his answers related to Korea's cultural policies because he was concerned if his comments might be understood as interventions in Korea's internal affairs. However, although Mr. Aillagon, a leading politician, favors free trade, he strongly supports the so-called "French position" on cultural affairs, including movies.

The following is the summary of the interview with Mr. Aillagon.

Jean-Jacques Aillagon
©2006 Ahn B.K.
I understand that "cultural diversity" has become a colloquial term, and is frequently used in cultural discussions in France. Could you explain what "cultural diversity" means?

The fundamental of cultural diversity originated from an understanding that different cultures in the world are not a uniformed entity. There are not only American movies, but also Korean ones for the future of our world. Under the principle of cultural diversity, each people, as creators of a culture, can advocate their own culture. For instance, French literature, Korean music, and Indian arts are all included in cultural diversity. Through pursuing cultural diversity, each culture would not be limited in its own boundary, and people in the world can have chances to enjoy different cultures.

Cultural diversity goes together with traditional cultures. It is an exchange of cultural experiences and an opening towards individual understandings and curiosity of people in the world. If you see only the same kind of movies, you may not be able to promote your curiosity any more. In fact, intellectual curiosity and encouragement require diversity.

Korea's Screen Quota system is recognized as an important engine for the adoption of the Convention on Cultural Diversity. But, three months after UNESCO's approval for the Convention, the Government of Korea announced that it agreed with the U.S. to reduce the Screen Quota from the current 146 to 73 days. Indeed, the Government of the United States had been persistently demanding the reduction of the Screen Quota by assigning the reduction as a precondition to enter negotiations for the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) between the two countries.

I basically support free trade for industrial products as such. But, cultures are different. If a country is concerned about its culture, it is obliged to protect it. It is reasonable for countries with great cultural capabilities and resources (such as France and Korea) to establish protectionist policies in order to promote and supply cultural assets.

It is true that cultural protectionist policies should not be overly exercised because a national culture should not be confined in its small world by ignoring other cultures. However, we should be careful in applying a free trade regime in cultural fields because free trade would lead to the standardization of cultures and the abandonment of creative and authentic cultures. American culture has a tremendous privilege because it can mobilize a great number of the masses in the world. While American movies can easily find their audiences outside the U.S thanks to English -- the world's most important language -- Korea and France have limited choices in promoting their cultures abroad.

I'd like to repeat my position that we need our strategies to protect our cultural creations as long as our protectionist policy does not confine our cultures. Korea has succeeded in protecting and promoting its movies by exercising an appropriate policy -- namely the Screen Quota. Thus, I'd like to sincerely request the Government of Korea not to abandon the Screen Quota."

What is the position of France concerning the FTA?

As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), France supports the free trade regime in principle. But, France has introduced exceptional articles for music and visual and auditory arts, and protected them as a cultural exception. Even inside the European Union (EU), there is an agreement to protect the cultural creations of Europe.

Although I agree with the principles of free trade, I do not think that cultures should be treated in the same way as a refrigerator or a car. Movies are a symbol of a language, spirits of a people, and furthermore an independent approach to understand the world. If this independent approach dies, human beings will be impoverished.

We should be discreet in dealing with cultures, and our rules must be fair with developing countries. Particularly, intellectual activities (including movies, music and visual and auditory programs) require extremely careful discussions and treatments. Also, protectionist policies are definitely needed in cultural fields.

The Convention on Cultural Diversity essentially emphasizes the need to recognize the values and symbolic importance of cultures, which have been considered as commercial items, and to protect cultures under international law. But, the Screen Quota, the basis of the Convention, is going to be reduced. How would you understand this situation?

I devoted myself to prepare the draft of the Convention during my terms as Minister of Culture and Communications. I had an opportunity to meet then-Minister of Culture and Tourism of Korea, Mr. Chang-Dong Lee, at the Cannes Film Festival. Mr. Lee and I discussed the Convention on Cultural Diversity, and we shared our meaningful experience participating in the preparation processes for the Convention.

I do not want to intervene in the internal affairs of Korea or to be a speaker for Korean policymakers. However, it would be a pity if Korea abandons its efforts to protect its movies because this country is the most successful Asian country in promoting movies. Due to the Screen Quota, Korean movies could survive, and moreover masterpieces have been created. I wish we could continuously see Korean movies in the future. Without Korea movies, the world would be less beautiful.

Could you briefly explain about the protectionist policies for movies in France?

American movies, currently taking 50 percent in French box offices, have a huge influence in France. But, I do not say that American movies should not play in French theatres. First of all, there are many great American movies out there. No one can deny that many great movies were produced in the U.S. in the 20th century.

I just want to emphasize that we need protectionist policies and actions to ensure the supply of French and European movies in theatres and on TV in France. It does not cost a lot to enact such policies, and these policies do not lead to the dominant position of French or European movies. We are opening to the world, but, at the same time, we need minimum protection for French movies so that French audiences do not forget about excellent French movies and France as a producer of great movies.

You have emphasized that France is determined in protecting its movies. In the meantime, are you confident with the quality of French movies?

Sure. French movies are healthy and excellent. French moviemakers have produced a good number of movies every year, and French movies are placed at the cultural centre in France.

The only shortcoming of French movies is the difficulties in international distribution. However, the government, as well as interest groups and organizations of moviemakers, directors, actors and actresses -- for instance, UNI France -- have persistently invested a lot of efforts to improve this problem. Indeed, difficulties in international distribution are caused by the dominant position of American movies, leaving almost no space for movies from other countries.

We have our duty to encourage movie-fans in the world to experience different kinds of movies because developing and cultivating the interests of audiences is the principle of cultural diversity.
©2006 OhmyNews

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