Last month I spent 2 fascinating days at the United Nations in New York with 25 other experts from all over the world. We had been called by Farida Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights.  What we were debating was the extent to which advertising and marketing impacts on these Rights.

Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”

Our discussions were extremely wide ranging.

Arguably our cultural rights are threatened when media ownership is highly concentrated and funded by an advertising business model.  Inevitably programming will be aimed at audiences most appealing to advertisers – what happens to programmes for those with little spending power?

Billboards which we have no option but to walk past present another possible threat to our rights.  Marcin Rutkiewicz talked of the situation in Poland where billboards are poorly regulated so that people can wake up and find a billboard literally in front of their window.  Gwenaelle Gobe talked of her film This Space Available which found that in North American often no legal action was taken against commercial companies posting billboards illegally whilst graffiti artists posting in the same space were quickly prosecuted.

From billboards we turned to neuroscience and talked about some of my work that shows that much of the influence of advertising happens without our conscious awareness.  If we are not free to control the impact of commercial messages does this infringe our rights?

Much of the second day was devoted to talking about children and their own special rights.  We heard about product placement in children’s tests in USA and sponsored  art competitions in Brazil where children are disqualified for not using the sponsoring company logo in their designs.  There was wide support for the UK industry ban on using under 16s as brand ambassadors – selling to their friends.

And what of our art galleries?  When corporations sponsor an exhibition should they be allowed to have a say in the content? This market is currently barely regulated yet could have an enormous impact on the diversity of the art that we  encounter and on the freedom of our artists.

We are now feeding into the report writing process and Farida Shaheed will present her recommendations to States next year.

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