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RIGHT OF CENTRE: Special status required

Erica Smith

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Maximization of the cultural industries depends on how it is measured. We can agree that it includes economic diversification, employment expansion, revenue and foreign exchange generation.
But the primary inputs in the cultural industries are our cultural expressions which play an integral role not only in adding value in terms of uniqueness but also in the promotion of diversity, education, communication and identity.
These “softer” components are what have led to the international drive for a different approach to the cultural industries which looks beyond strict economic considerations.  
Television production is a useful illustration. The importance of promoting local productions is accepted – not only for entertainment value but also in recognizing the role of television in the distribution of other cultural industries (music, drama, dance) and for a host of social reasons.
From a strictly economic perspective, however, it does not make sense to invest in television productions because compared with cheap, primarily North American products, we are at a disadvantage.
The same is true for most countries but this has not prevented heavy investment in local television through the use of television licences, investment requirements for broadcasters, and yes, the use of local content quotas to guarantee the broadcast of local productions. So, why are they making the effort?
There is the awareness that acquiring economic benefits from the cultural industries requires local support to build market share which allows for the achievement of some return and even profitability.
There is also the understanding that from a national development perspective there must be broader considerations.
If a determined effort is made to develop local television productions then there must a commitment made in terms of financing. CBC’s annual operating budget has been reliably stated to be approximately $250 000 which does not allow it to produce or licence many local shows hence the quality of programming.
But suppose the financing and incentives were found for more high-quality local products, the training and development of talent and state-of-the-art operations? Increased activity in the sector, competitiveness and profitability might be achieved but only if we also ensure that there is a market for these products.
There are tools which have been made available to us which we have yet to capitalize on, including the important Cultural Protocol of the CARIFORUM-European Union-Economic Partnership Agreement which explicitly encourages and recognizes the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions which we have ratified.
Significantly, there is recognition of the legitimacy of the use of “preferential schemes for the promotion of local and regional cultural content” under certain circumstances.
In the development of their cultural industries, our international trade partners have with each step understood that these industries require a special status.
If the principles of free enterprise and profit maximization are the sole considerations then investment in most of the sub-sectors could not be justified.  
Instead, another level of commitment is required. In the creation of policies, strategies and legislation, we need to incorporate all of the tools available to us taking advantage of the various treaties and agreements we sign.
Just as important, we need to be clear about how we define our development objectives.
As stated in the UNESCO Convention, we must be “convinced that cultural activities, goods and services have both an economic and a cultural nature, because they convey identities, values and meanings, and must therefore not be treated as solely having commercial value”.
Without this approach, we cannot maximize our cultural industries.