UNESCO walls off Hollywood fare

The world is ganging up on Hollywood.

In a slap in the face to the U.S., member states of U.N. cultural body UNESCO have voted to protect their film businesses against creeping globalization — in other words, Hollywood.

The vote, a Franco-Canadian initiative, was passed by 191 states: Only Israel and the U.S, which recently rejoined UNESCO after a 19-year absence, opposed it. Four countries abstained, including Australia.

Move could spark quotas on film and music imports, particularly in countries like France, where, in the first nine months of 2005, U.S. pics took 57.4% of the market share while Gallic films took 37.4%.

The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions gives member states the right to act against what they see as encroachment on their cultural identity.

Article 8, contested by the U.S., authorizes countries to identify “situations where cultural expressions … are at risk of extinction” and take “all appropriate measures” to preserve them.

Vive le exception

The adoption of the convention is particularly important for France, which has for years championed “the cultural exception” — a term that has come to be synonymous with protectionism and quotas.

Gaul is known for its generous subsidies for its film, TV, music and literary industries.

“We are no longer the black sheep on this subject,” said French culture czar Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. “This makes culture an exception, which is to say that it’s not the market that should regulate, it’s the states that should support and promote their own artists.”

The U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, Louise Oliver, called the convention “erroneous,” “ambiguous” and “protectionist.” “The term ‘cultural exception’ has never been defined,” she said, adding that the convention puts into question freedom of expression.

Gaul is in the middle of a heated debate on whether to open its state coin to Hollywood films, which many here see as tipping the balance even more in favor of U.S. fare.

MPAA speaks out

Late Thursday, the MPAA released a statement from chairman-CEO Dan Glickman.

“The MPAA believes strongly in the value of diversity,” Glickman said. “However, we share the concerns of many, including those expressed by the U.S. government, that the convention appears to be more about trade and commercial activities than about the promotion of cultural diversity.”

Glickman will give a speech on the topic of diversity and the UNESCO decision today at the Beaune Film Festival in France.

An MPAA spokesman said the org would address the issue further then.

In the meantime, org released a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sept. 9.

The missive, signed by 14 U.S. business groups including the MPAA, Independent Film & Television Alliance and RIAA, expressed sympathy for the convention’s goals but called it “extremely troubling in many respects.”

Trade barriers

Letter said the convention could be used to erect barriers against trade in almost any kind of goods and that it fails to mandate stronger intellectual property rights protection.

“Even more fundamentally,” says the letter, “the convention must be clear that it does not override agreements reached in other fora.” Letter’s signatories are concerned that the convention may be cited as a pretext for ignoring World Trade Organization treaty obligations.

The vote on the convention, held at UNESCO’s Paris HQ, must be ratified by 30 member states to take effect.

(David S. Cohen in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more