OSCE publishes guidelines on the use of minority languages in the broadcast media
Baden 27/10/03, by Margret Oberhofer
‘I intend to use the guidelines in the situation where you have minorities in tense situations, in endangered positions and where there are majority-minority frictions. I will bring these guidelines out and try to get them realised,’ stresses Rolf Ekéus, High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in an interview with Eurolang.
He was speaking on Saturday at the OSCE conference on ‘Use of Minority Languages in Broadcast Media’ in the Austrian town of Baden, close to Vienna. There, Mr Ekéus presented the ‘Guidelines on the Use of Minority Language in Broadcast Media’ to the public.
A team of independent experts coming from different countries and professional backgrounds elaborated on the four-page document. Based on the study on ‘Minority-Language Related Broadcasting and Legislation in the OSCE’, commissioned by the High Commissioner and published recently, the guidelines aim to set out some standards in a ‘user-friendly language’, as John Packer, director of the HCNM office describes it. An annex, attached to the document identifies the international standards on which the guidelines were based. Both the survey and the guidelines should be ‘a useful tool for policy makers’, says Ekéus.
The first point deals with general principles, such as freedom of expression, protection and identity, and cultural and linguistic diversity. In the second point experts advise states to develop a policy to address the use of minority languages in the broadcast media.
The next point deals with regulations: ‘Regulation, including licensing, must be prescribed by law, based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria’. Furthermore, the issue of proportionality of regulations, translation restrictions and transfrontier broadcasting is raised.
Lastly, the guidelines stress the obligation of states to support broadcasting in minority languages and also provide meaningful access to it through allocation of frequencies, establishment and support of broadcasters and programme scheduling, for example. The importance of governmental financial support is also highlighted.
The HCNM office makes it very clear that this paper should not be seen either as a negotiated or a binding document but more as guidelines that can be taken into consideration by governments, NGOs and broadcast media.
‘We will not negotiate these guidelines, they are the work of experts and I intend to bring them now to international attention in several ways. One is of course to present it to the Permanent Council of OSCE in December,’ says Ekéus. ‘But first of all I will bring it into practice. This is the strength of my office: I am not here to make legal points but to do real things.’
But the way forward for these guidelines to become reality is not an easy one, continues the High Commissioner: ‘I have to be very insistent and to use the powers I have in order impose deadlines or at least put pressure in favour of implementation of these positions, which I think will lead to increased harmony and integration and diminished risk for development of new conflicts.’
Even though welcoming the guidelines as an important tool for improving majority-minority relations, Helle Degn, Commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States on Democratic Development, says that the influence and outreach of both international organisations and national politicians is limited.
‘The legislators can do a lot to ensure good laws, to ensure good conditions for minority media and so on. But when it comes to deciding the practices of the individual TV or radio station in dealing with minority issues, the decision is in the hands of the media themselves,’ says Degn.
Helle Degn went on to suggest the promotion of ethical behaviour amongst media when dealing with minorities. ‘I propose this in order to raise editors awareness about the importance of the media for minorities, and to ensure the adoption of codes of ethics in media enterprises and at editorial offices. Such codes of ethics should include a section on ethical standards when broadcasting about minorities.’ (EL)