The audiovisual dossier on the agenda of the World Trade Organization
01/02/2002 - 02/04/2009
Has been finalized

Notwithstanding the deadlock in the WTO Doha Round, the ‘trade and culture quandary’ remains highly debated. For some, the WTO impact on audiovisual policy will result in an apocalyptic liberalization scenario jeopardizing cultural diversity. Others contend that the audiovisual dossier is much ado about nothing because there is no liberalization of the audiovisual sector. These opposing perspectives demonstrate the issue’s complexity. Solid theoretical approaches to understand this are scarce however. Therefore, a theoretical and analytical framework to map and analyse the multiple dimensions of the audiovisual dossier is proposed: it sets out from Bhagwati’s observation that policy is the result of the interplay between Ideas, Interests and Institutions (the I, I & I mix). The work of North (1990) is used in order to translate the mix into an analytical framework to assess developments in the audiovisual dossier and in media policy at large. Firstly, the framework allows us to map and analyse the complexity of the issue. It is used in order to discern the actors involved (countries, WTO, UNESCO, …) and their position within the ‘audiovisual institutional framework’. The latter consists of informal constraints (ideas or norms), formal rules (WTO trade agreements, Cultural Diversity Convention), and enforcement institutions (WTO dispute settlement cases and practice). This is useful to get some grip on the issue’s complexity and to look further than its mere formal articulation. Moreover, the framework is of an open nature and allows for flexibility to introduce case-specific elements. In that sense, it can be applied to different topics within the field of national, European and international communications law and policy. The framework also prevents linear (or strictly causal) assessments of issues that are embedded within specific historical and policy contexts. Secondly, the theoretical framework is used to reflect upon institutional change in order to overcome the current audiovisual deadlock. Norths hypothesis is that an institutional framework develops incrementally on a certain path dependent trajectory. But at the same time, because of interrelations within the I, I & I mix and between actors and institutions, margins for change are produced. Our analysis indeed shows that GATT and WTO were set on a path pro liberalisation. But the audiovisual institutional framework is liberalised only incrementally. Simultaneously, margins are produced to deviate in order to attain non-economic, cultural diversity, concerns. However, these margins are not made explicit and, for now, only used to secure the status quo.