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Recommending further measures, as appropriate, for the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities

11 July 2005

UN Commission on Human Rights – Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Statement submitted to UN Working Group on Minorities – 11th Session – 30th May – 3 June 2005 – Agenda item 3 (c)

Recommending further measures, as appropriate, for the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities

Minority Languages in the broadcast media

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

My name is Graham Fox and I am a representative of Minority Rights Group International.

In this statement I would like to address the particular issue of minorities and the broadcast media, with a view to elaborating on practical measures to promote the rights of minorities both in regard to the broadcast media and more broadly through the appropriate use of those media.

It is well known that the media in its variety of forms provides a crucial role for all communities in the provision of information and news, entertainment, discussion, education and in the important fields of cultural reproduction, identity and language. This is no less true for minorities than it is for majority communities. Moreover access to media in minority languages and with content relevant to minorities themselves is an important factor in providing minorities with a sense of belonging, acceptance, community and well being.

The role of the media in promoting understanding and cooperation between communities may be less well understood and developed, and essential work needs to be done in this regard. However this role is potentially a very real and effective one which exploits the positive power of the media to cross boundaries and open cultural spaces that too often remain closed between communities. Clearly we must also address the question of the negative role of the media, for example in reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices and in forms of media control or failure in journalistic standards that contribute to discrimination against particular groups within society.

In many states the access of minority communities to the media is seriously limited or in some cases completely restricted. Persons belonging to linguistic minorities for example are typically disadvantaged in the media marketplace. A lack of linguistic plurality within the media environment has been described as a form of ‘soft assimilation’ in that the only available media is the language of the majority and does not reflect a content which is sensitive to minority needs, preferences and issues.

In this regard, I would like to draw the attention of the Working Group to the development of a set of guidelines on minority languages in the broadcast media developed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) under the auspices of the office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities. These guidelines set out a comprehensive minimum standard of good practice in regard to minority languages in the broadcast media and, in our opinion offer an extremely useful tool for the promotion of minority rights in respect to the broadcast media environment.

The guidelines were formulated by a body of experts in the fields of both minority rights and the broadcast media itself. They build upon the essential right of freedom of expression as a cornerstone of human rights protection for all communities without interference as enshrined in the UDHR, ICCPR (article 19) and the ECHR (article 10). The promotion of pluralism in the broadcast media reflecting cultural and linguistic diversity, is a necessary component of this freedom of expression. The explanatory note to the OSCE guidelines builds strongly on the provisions of the Declaration on Minorities itself.

Article 4(2) of the Declaration is particularly relevant in that it stipulates that ‘States shall take measures to create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express their characteristics and to develop their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs’.

In summary, the OSCE guidelines present proposals to ensure a pluralistic and diverse broadcast media through such measures as progressive state policy and regulation, state support and promotion of access to media, public funding and capacity building. Such proposals include the possibility for the establishment of minority language media by minorities themselves in their own language, with the assistance of the state, both financial and through training and technical assistance as appropriate. The guidelines also call for policy measures to ensure that minority languages and cultures are well represented within the mainstream media. The guidelines were produced alongside a survey of state legislation and practice which offers the opportunity to consider the current legislative situation and identify where progress is required.

I am informed that the OSCE guidelines are to be taken up for further consideration by the Council of Europe. In view of the already extensive support for these authoritative guidelines, I would like to ask the Members of the Working Group, state delegations and minority organizations and representatives to study the guidelines discussed above with a view to considering their wider value for minorities generally both within and beyond the European context?

Copies of the OSCE guidelines will be made available at the back of the room. MRG believes that the media has an important practical role to play in the promotion and protection of the rights of minorities and that a healthy media environment is reflected in a plurality of languages and a diversity of programming that reflects all ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic traditions and needs within society. MRG would be happy to assist the Working Group should it wish to consider these measures further.

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Graham Fox

Guidelines on the use of Minority Languages in the Broadcast Media

Developed by a panel of experts at the request of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities – 25 October 2003

I. General principles

1. Freedom of Expression. The freedom of expression of every person, including persons belonging to national minorities, includes the right to receive, seek and impart information and ideas in a language and media of their choice without interference and regardless of frontiers.

The exercise of this freedom may be subject only to such limitations as are compatible with international law.

2. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. States should guarantee the freedom of choice by creating an environment in which a variety of ideas and information can flourish as communicated in various languages.

3. Protection of Identity. All persons, including persons belonging to national minorities, have the right to maintain and develop their identity, including through the use of their language(s), in and through the broadcast media.

4. Equality and Non-Discrimination. All persons, including persons belonging to national minorities, have the right to enjoy the freedom of expression and to maintain and develop their identity in and through the broadcast media in conditions of equality and without discrimination. States should take special and concrete measures, where necessary, to ensure that persons belonging to national minorities enjoy effective equality with regard to the use of their language in the broadcast media.

II. Policy

5. States should develop policy to address the use of minority language(s) in the broadcast media. Policy should be based on an ascertainment of the needs of persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their identities. In the development and application of such policy, persons belonging to national minorities should enjoy effective participation, including in consultative processes and representation in relevant institutions and bodies.

6. Independent regulatory bodies should be responsible for the implementation and enforcement of State policy. Such bodies should be established and should function in a transparent manner.

7. State policy should support public service broadcasting which provides a wide and balanced range of informational, educational, cultural and entertainment programming of high quality in order, inter alia, to meet the needs of persons belonging to national minorities. States should maintain and, where necessary, establish the financial, technical and other conditions for public service broadcasters to fulfil their mandates in this field.

8. State policy should facilitate the establishment and maintenance by persons belonging to national minorities of broadcast media in their own language.

III. Regulation

9. Permissibility of Regulation. States may regulate the broadcast media for the protection and promotion of the freedom of expression, cultural and linguistic diversity, the maintenance and development of cultural identity, and for the respect of the rights or reputations of others. Such regulation, including licensing, must be prescribed by law, based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria and shall not aim to restrict or have the effect of restricting broadcasting in minority languages.

10. Promotion of Languages. In regulating the use of language in the broadcast media, States may promote the use of selected languages. Measures to promote one or more language(s) should not restrict the use of other languages. States may not prohibit the use of any language in the broadcast media. Measures to promote any language in broadcast media should not impair the enjoyment of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.

11. Proportionality of Regulation. Any regulation, whether prescriptive or proscriptive, must pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate to that aim. When assessing the proportionality of any regulation, specific factors concerning the nature of the media and wider social environment should be considered. Such factors include:

  • The nature and objectives of the measure, including its potential to contribute to the quality and balance of programming, in pursuit of the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, cultural and linguistic diversity, and the maintenance and development of cultural identity.
  • The existing political, social and religious context, including cultural and linguistic diversity, structures of governance, and regional characteristics.
  • The number, variety, geographical reach, character, function and languages of available broadcasting services – whether public, private or foreign – at all levels (national, regional and local). The financial costs to the audience of the various services, technical possibilities for reception and the quantity as well as the quality of broadcasting, both in terms of the scheduling of slots and the type of programming, are all relevant considerations.
  • The rights, needs, expressed desires and nature of the audience(s) affected, including their numerical size and geographical concentration, at each level (national, regional and local).

12. Translation Restrictions. Minority language broadcasting should not be subject to the imposition of undue or disproportionate requirements for translation, dubbing, post-synchronisation or subtitling.

13. Transfrontier Broadcasting. The free reception of transfrontier broadcasts, whether direct or by means of retransmission or rebroadcasting, shall not be prohibited on the basis of language. The availability of foreign broadcasting in a minority language does not negate the State’s obligation to facilitate domestically produced broadcasting in that language nor does it justify a reduction of the broadcast time in that language.

IV. Promotion of minority languages

14. State Support. The State should support broadcasting in minority languages. This may be achieved through, inter alia, provision of access to broadcasting, subsidies and capacity building for minority language broadcasting.

15. Access to Broadcasting. States should provide meaningful access to minority language broadcasting through, inter alia, the allocation of frequencies, establishment and support of broadcasters, and program scheduling. In this regard, account should be taken of the numerical size, geographical concentration, and location of persons belonging to national minorities together with their needs and interests. The availability of minority language broadcasting at regional or local level does not justify the exclusion of minority language programming in nation-wide broadcasting, including for dispersed minorities.

A. Frequencies

  • When awarding licenses, States should consider providing frequencies for minority language broadcasting in whole or in part.
  • States should consider providing “open channels” – i.e. programme transmission facilities, which use the same frequency, shared by a number of linguistic groups within the service area – where there are technical limitations on the number of frequencies available and/or groups that do not have sufficient resources to sustain their own services.

B. Broadcasters

  • States should prescribe appropriate requirements for State or public service broadcasters with regard to the provision of programming in minority languages.
  • States should also consider creating favourable conditions (financial or otherwise) to encourage private minority language broadcasting. This may be achieved through the allocation of licenses, including calls for tender or in response to a proposal from an applicant. States may also choose to exempt minority language broadcasters from competition legislation or create special regimes to relieve them of certain administrative burdens.
  • Where there is no private minority language broadcasting, States should actively assist its establishment, as necessary.

C. Programming

  • States should ensure that the amount of time allocated and the scheduling of minority language broadcasting should reflect the numerical size and concentration of the national minority and be appropriate to their needs and interests. Consideration must also be given to the minimum amount of time and appropriate scheduling needed for small minorities to have meaningful access to broadcast media in their language. These aims may be achieved through licensing, including through stipulation of lengths and periods of minority language broadcasting.

16. Public Funding. States should consider providing financial support for minority language broadcasting. This can be achieved through direct grants, favourable financing/tax regimes, and exemption from certain fees payable on award or alteration of a license. To ensure effective equality, minority language broadcasters in numerically smaller communities may require funds or facilities disproportionate to their size as a percentage of available resources. States should encourage and facilitate, including through the provision of financial assistance, the production and distribution of audio and audiovisual works in minority languages.

17. Capacity Building. States should contribute to the building of the capacity of minority language broadcasting. This may be done through technical support to distribute minority language productions both domestically and abroad and to facilitate transfrontier broadcasting in minority languages. In addition, States should consider supporting the education and training of personnel for minority language broadcasting.