Cultural Diversity in the Digital Age: EU Competences, Policies and Regulations for Diverse Audiovisual and Online Content

Kristina Irion and Peggy Valcke


Pursuant to the 2005 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions (the UNESCO Convention), ' "Cultural diversity" refers to the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies find expression... whatever the means and technologies used' (UNESCO, 2005: Article 4(2)). Parties to this convention may in particular 'adopt measures aimed at enhancing diversity of the media...’ (ibid.: Article 6(2)(h)). The European Union (EU) ratified the UNESCO Convention confined to its competences in the fields covered by this instrument and without prejudice to member states' initiatives towards this aim (EU Council (Council), 2006).

The value of pluralism as well as the respect for cultural and linguistic diversity are founding principles of the EU, as confirmed by Articles 2 and 3(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 11(2) and 22 of the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights (the Charter), in conjunction with Article 6(1) TEU. Cultural diversity is also recognised as a cross-cutting horizontal policy issue that shall guide EU actions yet mindful of the cultural policy of each member state (cf. Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): Article 167).

As it is recognised by the UNESCO Convention, the media, and the audiovisual media in particular, are a prominent amplifier of member states' linguistic and sociocultural traditions which complement

Europe's cultural diversity (Schmahl, 2008: 251). The audiovisual sector 'remains by and large domestic in its origin and consumption', compounding to a somewhat diffuse European identity 'bound perhaps at the very least by its common ground of difference, sense of transcendence and transition' (Sarikakis, 2007: 18).1 Media policy therefore should be seen as an enabling mechanism to enhance the media's capacity to play a positive role with respect to cultural diversity (Raboy, 2007).

This chapter offers a concise introduction to EU policies aimed at protecting and promoting cultural expressions in the audiovisual and online sectors. Corresponding with its competences, the EU emphasises economic integration and internal market objectives in full recognition that '[a]udiovisual media services are as much cultural services as they are economic services'.2 For obvious reasons, cultural diversity closely interacts with the freedom of expression and information as well as media pluralism - both protected under Article 11 of the Charter (Cavaliere, 2012: 362;UNESCO, 2005: Article 4(2)). Raboy (2007) maintains: 'Media pluralism is a multifaceted notion that if interpreted in relation to cultural diversity means that media effectively carries a variety of cultural expressions' (cf. Dommering, 2008: 23).

Following a value-chain approach, this chapter examines the complementary role of various EU sectoral regulations towards the creation and circulation of cultural content. The analysis focuses on the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive (European Parliament and Council, 2010) and various aspects of the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications, relevant to the distribution of audiovisual and online content. Besides regulation, significant EU initiatives to promote cultural expressions in the audiovisual and online sectors are briefly discussed, particularly when substantial funds from the EU budget are allocated for this purpose.

The next section introduces the EU's commitment to cultural diversity in relation to its competences to shape public policy aimed at the protection and promotion of cultural expressions in the audiovisual and online sectors. The following section traces sectoral EU regulations and other support measures which directly or indirectly serve the promotion of cultural diversity in the audiovisual and online sectors. The concluding part discusses the complexity of promoting cultural diversity in light of both cultural content supply and demand considerations and provides an outlook to emerging policy issues.

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