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New guidelines encourage minority language broadcast media

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A new set of guidelines aimed at encouraging the development of minority language broadcast media across the participating states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been presented by the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM). The guidelines, developed by a panel of independent experts at the request of the High Commissioner, describe the standards that states should meet, based on general principles of freedom of expression, cultural and linguistic diversity, protection of identity, and equality and non-discrimination. The guidelines were welcomed by state representatives, experts and NGOs at a conference in Baden, Austria on 25 October 2003. However some organizations have stressed that progress towards the implementation of existing standards remains cause for concern.

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Ambassador Rolf Ekéus, opened the Baden conference at which was also launched a comprehensive survey of current state practice and legislation on minority language broadcasting, commissioned by the HCNM. The guidelines highlight the need for development of progressive state policy to address the use of minority languages in the broadcast media. Among them is the need for an independently regulated, non-discriminatory legislative environment, and consideration of public funding initiatives to enable minorities to effectively develop broadcast media operations. The guidelines recognise that minorities may lack financial resources and require opportunities for training and developing media skills through capacity building initiatives.

The Council of Europe’s (CoE) Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages are among a number of important European and international instruments addressing minority rights issues. Article 9 of the FCNM clearly establishes the rights of minorities with regard to freedom of expression, and that states should ensure ‘that persons belonging to national minorities are granted the possibility of creating and using their own media’. However, as Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has highlighted, the FCNM has not been ratified by all states, including several existing European Union states. The FCNM and other international standards continue to be weakly implemented by some who have ratified them.

The High Commissioner described a number of NGO interventions on the need for implementation of the guidelines and other international standards, as providing a necessary ‘cold shower’, which should focus attention on the need to encourage state progress. The status of the guidelines does not impose a legal obligation upon states. However they are considered to be an authoritative comment and practical elaboration on this issue and, as such, are considered by Minority Rights Group International to reflect a valuable statement of minimum standards of good practice. The High Commissioner stated that the guidelines would be presented to states and widely translated and disseminated, in order to encourage their use by representatives of governments, minorities and other interested persons.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, who was one of the expert panel, stated: ‘An environment in which we are informed, entertained, inspired and understood in our own language plays a vital role in encouraging a sense of belonging to community, society and state. The assisted development of minority language media should not be seen as a concession to minorities. It is an important step towards a healthy and pluralistic media environment, reflecting the rich diversity of social, cultural and language traditions within Europe.’

Minority Rights Group International welcomes the new guidelines and the survey of state practice. MRG believes that these initiatives offer an important tool and opportunity for states to respond to their obligations and meet the media needs of minorities. States should be aware of the mutual benefits which may result from an active and diverse broadcast media, which may offer valuable opportunities for the dissemination of information and cross-cultural understanding.

Notes for editors

Click here to access the full guidelines on the use of Minority language in the Broadcast Media – English and Romany versions available.

Filed Under: Language, United Nations
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