10.08.2004 -

Promoting Cultural Diversity through the Media: New Possibilities for Local Content Distribution

"Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature.

In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognised and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations." These words come from Article 1 of UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and express very eloquently the need for diversity in all aspects of human activity.


With the tremendous development of the communication and information sectors, particular attention has been paid in recent years to the need for cultural diversity in the media as a way of preserving concepts of identity and social bonds within communities and cultures while promoting local cultural expression and local languages.


There is no doubt that today's media environment increases choices, provides opportunities for cultural expression and dialogue, and facilitates the flow of information at the planetary level. But during the last decades we have also witnessed a concentration of ownership and a limitation of access and content sources.


One of the main lines of the plan of action of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity clearly stresses the importance of encouraging the production, safeguarding and dissemination of diversified contents in the media and global information networks and, to that end, promoting the role of public radio and television services in the development of audiovisual productions of good quality, in particular by fostering the establishment of cooperative mechanisms to facilitate their distribution.




Local content is the expssion of a community's knowledge and experience, and the process of creating and disseminating provides opportunities to the members of the community to interact and communicate with each other, expressing their own ideas, knowledge and culture in their own language.




In this context, it is important to grasp and understand the dominant socio-economic and cultural patterns underlying the creation and distribution of the entertainment and information content that is being mass-produced to feed t different traditional and new media. The dominant trends are obviously the top-down flow of content from economically and socially powerful groups to less privileged and disadvantaged ones; from the more developed countries and more sophisticated media production houses to the less developed countries and networks.


With the exception of community radio, which has traditionally allowed more local content production and dissemination, the content made available to billions of people worldwide through television and the Internet, comes from a very limited number of sources.


There is yet another problem that has been proved to be more difficult to overcome than content production, it is its distribution. Broadcasters worldwide, but particularly in developing countries, public or commercial, prefer buying low-price Western packages than purchasing the broadcasting rights of content made in the region, the latter being more costly and requiring an effort of accustoming their audiences. Even if broadcasters often have no choice because of weak or non-existent production and programming budgets, it is also a matter of lack of commitment at the decision-making level, where the importance of local content for the promotion of cultural diversity is not yet fully recognised.


The consequence of current audio-visual distribution practices is that neighbouring countries ignore the content produced beyond their borders, contributing to the lack of understanding between their populations.


UNESCO's strategy to promote content development relies on creating proactive partnerships with content creators, media organisations, NGOs, distribution and broadcasting outlets and professional international organisations. For this, the Organisation launched two years ago the Programme for Creative Content, which aims at boosting the production and distribution of local content for television, radio and new media.


The search for new tools, with which poorer countries and communities can develop their creativity and reach wider audiences and markets while safeguarding their cultural identity, has become easier with the latest technological developments.


In this spirit, UNESCO has just launched an Audiovisual e-Platform, a multicultural, on-line catalogue for inpendent producers and broadcasters. The e-Platform, now fully operational, aims at becoming an alternative communication channel and intends to increase the flow of content among countries that are unusual content providers, empowering local, independent producers to reach international audiences, and creating a new space for intercultural communication and dialogue.(...)

(for more information, portal.unesco.org/ci/cc)


The next step may be to open this kind of initiatives to the general publicor a modest fee, following the pay-per-view principle, which can then replenish the independent authors' content production budget lines, ensuring some sustainability and keeping creativity alive in the audiovisual sector.


Rosa Gonzalez, UNESCO, in I4D magazine

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