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Nations' Cultural War Begins on Home Front

July 02, 1998|CRAIG TURNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA — Government culture overseers from around the globe drifted out of this capital Wednesday radiating sentiments ranging from satisfaction to near euphoria over their decision to band together against Hollywood's global reach.

But after their flights home, they will be faced with the reality of translating that decision into common policies in an interdependent economy in which the blurry intersection of art, nationality and commerce creates anomalies like this one here in Canada:

Quebec singer Celine Dion recently was honored by the Canadian government as an exemplary cultural and goodwill ambassador; yet many of her recordings do not qualify under government requirements that radio stations devote 30% of their programming to Canadian music. That's because those recordings were written and produced by non-Canadians.

The representatives of Canada and 18 African, European and Latin American nations agreed to try to elevate cultural issues in the policy decisions of individual governments, the International Monetary Fund and other global institutions. Too often, they said, culture has taken a back seat to economics in such deliberations.

But it was apparent that it's much easier to save a tree than it is to prevent Croats from abandoning charming old sidewalk cafes in Zagreb for the convenience of the new McDonald's or to get more Web sites translated into Icelandic.

Indeed, the ministers at the meeting didn't even try to define what they were talking about beyond an agreement that the people of individual nations need to be able to tell and hear their own stories, songs and legends in the language of their choice.

Moreover, different countries brought different priorities to the conference. Croatian Minister Bozo Biskupic said his top concern was how to prevent the media and other cultural industries from spreading ethnic hatred. Brigitte Sylvia Mabandla of South Africa talked about how the development of cultural industries is an important economic stimulant for poor countries.

The ministers agreed to meet again next year in Mexico and in 2000 in Greece.

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