The United Nations' cultural agency, UNESCO, approved a convention yesterday (Oct. 20) that allows countries to protect their music, movies and other cultural activities.

The United Nations' cultural agency UNESCO approved a convention yesterday (Oct. 20) that allows countries to protect their music, movies and other cultural activities.

The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions was presented to the votes of the organization's general conference, UNESCO's supreme body, comprising 191 member states.

The document was adopted in Paris by 148 votes to just two against -- the United States and Israel -- with abstention from Australia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Liberia.

Canada, France and the European Union, among others, backed the project, which faced fierce resistance from the United States.

The initiative does not have any legal standing, but it does give moral backing to government subsidies and quotas for domestic music and film industries, as well as content on radio and television. The convention must be formally ratified by at least 30 of UNESCO's 191 members before coming into force.

The 40-page treaty upholds the "sovereign right" of countries to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions and requires this to be taken into account in applying other accords, such as the rules of the World Trade Organization. However, it does not call into question WTO commitments.

"The convention is not subordinated to other treaties, but on an equal footing with, for example, WTO agreements," said EU culture commissioner Jan Figel. "It says cultural issues can duly be taken into account when treaties are negotiated."

Figel underlined that that the convention did not create any new laws or instruments to protect music or movies. "We have not made any new policies. We just made existing policies more transparent and clarified them in an international arena."

The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers today applauded the move. "CISAC is elated that the adoption of this UNESCO Convention will put cultural diversity on an equal footing with other important international principles, including those related to free trade and the freedom of expression," comments Cisac director generatl Eric Baptiste. "We strongly believe that robust local creativity consistent with the tastes and wishes of the public can only bring a more vibrant, global marketplace for creative works of all kinds" added.

The United States, which submitted 27 amendments to the text, argued that it was too vaguely written and could result in trade disputes or be used by governments to suppress free expression.

U.S. ambassador to UNESCO Louise Oliver said it could not support the convention "because of its lack of clarity," which "might be misused by a government as a justification for adopting policies and measures that would protect and promote the majority culture within its territory, at the expense of minority cultures."

She added that the United States was also troubled by provisions "that seem to provide undue scope for interference by governments with freedom of expression, information and communication, as well as with the ability of individuals to adopt cultural expressions of their choosing."