Spain mulls cultural exception

Legislation may remove film, TV from free trade rules

MADRID — In a move that sends a chill down the spines of U.S. studios, Spain’s new culture minister Carmen Calvo is prepping legislation to ensure the local film and TV biz is protected by “cultural exception,” as in France.

Details have yet to emerge, Calvo has only been in her post a week and the film industry plans a conference in September where it is likely to thrash out its own demand.

Hints to the law’s general thrust are clear, however. Popularized by Jack Lang, France’s culture minister under Francois Mitterand, “cultural exception” refers to the right of countries to exclude from free-trade rules monitored by the World Trade Organization protectionist measures for their domestic film and TV industries.

The cultural exception has allowed France to adopt regs, such as levies on movie ticket sales and broadcaster revenues, which helped channel E504 million ($607 million) into its film industry in 2003 via the CNC film institute.

Now it may be Spain’s turn.

In an article published Sunday by Spain’s most-read daily newspaper “El Pais,” Calvo suggested the cultural exception legislation will have to pass Spain’s lower house with the support of other political parties, since the new socialist government does not have a majority.

The law is likely to include a hike in Spain’s small central state subsidy fund, which runs $40 million a year. It could prove more difficult to introduce French-style levies into Spain.

The minister’s words contrast radically with the stance of former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, who once called the exception a resort of “cultural losers.”

Calvo’s early declarations that culture, especially film, is a governmental priority, have been met with joy by Spain’s film producers.

“We’re very, very hopeful, although any measures adopted must harmonize all industry sectors and reflect an industry consensus that includes broadcasters, distributors and exhibitors,” said Agustin Almodovar.

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