Ron Paul vs. UNESCO

On June 3, 2004, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) called on Washington to pull out of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO).

Among the reasons Dr. Paul cited for withdrawing: UNESCO was "providing support for a global u2018cultural diversity' convention, which would severely impede the ability of the United States entertainment industry to sell its products overseas."

Why worry about this convention? For one thing, repressive governments might use it as a pretext to keep unwanted foreign movies, music, books and other cultural goods from their markets – while claiming to "protect" local cultures from being "polluted."

Dr. Paul's warning about the UNESCO threat to America's cultural exports fell largely on deaf ears. A handful of his colleagues stood by him, but few within the Beltway heeded the call to arms. Some may have thought it was too far-fetched to be believed.

Let's fast forward to October 20, 2005. On that day, in Paris, UNESCO's members overwhelmingly voted in favor the cultural diversity convention mentioned by Dr. Paul. Only the US and Israel opposed it.

Louise Oliver, the US ambassador to UNESCO, raised the sort of objections to the treaty that one could easily imagine coming from Dr. Paul, based on his earlier assessment. She fretted that the convention could threaten "the free flow of information and freedom of choice in cultural expression and enjoyment."

And on October 21, movie industry representative Dan Glickman also echoed Dr Paul.

“No one should use this convention to close their borders to a whole host of products…What's to stop a country saying that it’ll only take 20% of U.S. films, or taxing our films but not its own?” Glickman said.

What seemed far-fetched in 2004 became reality in 2005. The news out of UNESCO came as a surprise only to those who did not read Dr. Paul's warning in 2004.

By forecasting UNESCO's actions so accurately, Dr. Paul showed he knew his history. The key here was not some special insight into the future, but rather a keen understanding of UNESCO's past.

Many Americans may not remember that it was only a couple of decades ago that UNESCO peddled a bundle of policies known as the "New World Information and Communication Order" (NWICO).

A coalition of authoritarian and totalitarian states promoted NWICO through UNESCO in the early 1980s, urging greater state authority over independent media, to ensure reporters could be more closely monitored.

NWICO's supporters claimed that this would lead to more accurate news. Its opponents argued that this goal of greater accuracy would come at the high price of making reporters into government-controlled shills.

UNESCO's dogged advocacy in favor of NWICO became a major reason for the US's decision to withdraw its UNESCO membership in 1984. As one State Department representative put it, behind NWICO lurked "an endemic hostility toward the institutions of a free society."

In 2003, when President George W. Bush announced the US would rejoin UNESCO, many commentators applauded and gushed about how the organization had reformed itself.

Dr. Paul saw through the bafflegab. Yes, UNESCO may have tried to clean up its notoriously padded budget and trim its bloated staff. But as Dr. Paul tried to warn Americans, it retains its ingrained hostility towards the free flow of information, as its support for the cultural diversity convention shows.

The cultural diversity convention represents an obnoxious mutation of the original NWICO idea.

Before, UNESCO thought that the newsrooms of private media belonged to governments. Today, it seems to believe that movie theatres should be considered state property, and that governments have the right to set quotas to limit how many foreign films can enter their domestic markets.

So where does this leave Dr. Paul and his powers as a forecaster?

"When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen" was a famous (and much parodied) advertising slogan in the 1980s.

Let's hope that the next time Dr. Paul notices some unaccountable international bureaucrats getting up to no good and he issues a warning, more people will listen.

October 31, 2005

Neil Hrab [email him] is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. He holds an MA in political science from the University of Toronto.