Menningarstarf í upplýsingasamfélagi Róm - enska

Rome, 22-23 October, 1999.

Opening remarks by Mr. Björn Bjarnason, Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Iceland.

Ministers, Mayor of Rome, other distinguished guests.

It is my privilege to represent the Council of Ministers at this joint conference by the Council of Europe and the Municipality of Rome on cultural work within the information society. I think that the venue for open discussion about new possibilities and strategies within the cultural sphere could not have been better chosen than here in Rome, this ancient city, exuding with religion, culture and history.

On the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe, it is important to remind ourselves of the ties that bind our countries together, what we have in common and what we can therefore accomplish. The Council of Europe has been at the forefront of the defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In fulfilling this mission, culture has played a vital role, always providing momentum for the implementation of progressive human rights-oriented values. It is not a co-incidence that the European Cultural Convention, signed as early as 1954, was recognised as one of the first historical achievements for our organisation.

The countries of the Council of Europe share a strong historical and cultural heritage which provides a solid foundation for future co-operation. One strength is derived from the dynamism of the cultural and linguistic pluralism of the region. Another from the technological advantage of our industries and economies, which provide a dynamic and energetic back-drop for European society in the next millenium. The importance of this conference here in Rome is the chance to create a platform on which the furtherance of many important issues can be based and developed.

In May, this year, Iceland for the first time assumed the presidency of the Council of Europe. The presidency, which is now nearing its last month, has brought a welcome opportunity to lead the organisation in an important phase of its history and to re-assert Iceland's strong commitment to the preservation of human rights, democracy and European cultural heritage. The priorities of the Icelandic Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, set out at the start of our term, were that the Council of Europe and the values which it stands for must be supported actively by the member states, both in terms of funding and commitment to our five paradigms: human rights, democratic stability, rule of law, culture and education, and social cohesion. Another emphasis of the Icelandic presidency is to underscore the adherence by our countries to the judgements and decisions of the institutions of the Council of Europe or otherwise risk the discredit of our co-operative framework - in particular the Court of Human Rights, but also the Committee of Ministers itself in its monitoring role.

As a response to the Second Summit of the Council of Europe in October 1997, the Council for Cultural Co-operation launched a new project entitled "New information technologies". This project stems from the mandate of the Action plan of the Second Summit which resolved "to develop a European policy for the application of the new information technologies, with a view to ensure respect for human rights and cultural diversity, fostering freedom of expression and information and maximising the educational and cultural potential of these technologies".

In Europe there appears to be unanimous agreement that the free flow of individuals, as well as of information, is a vital factor in the strengthening of co-operation in our field. Over the last few years, we have witnessed an unprecedented escalation in the use of the Internet and information technology, in almost every facet of life - education, commerce, and of course culture.

The general objective of the "New information technologies" project of the Council for Cultural Co-operation is to develop, in the course of its implementation, guidelines for a cultural policy for a balanced development of the information society, in addition to the development of information infrastructure.

We should in this context look at the work undertaken by the Council of Europe in launching demonstrative activities that illustrate and expand the effects of guidelines addressed to member states of the Council. A typical example is the action on freedom of expression in the electronic environment, which develops a "public access" philosophy in public libraries, learning and cultural institutions in the light of sweeping effects of the technological revolution.

The Council of Europe has thoroughly studied all aspects of "training, qualifications and professional profiles", where a draft Recommendation on cultural work within the information society has been elaborated. The discussion and validation of this Recommendation is the very topic of the present Conference.

This activity originated within the framework of the New Book Economy project, initiated by the Council of Europe and now running in six countries: Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden. The resulting guidelines went into an elaborate consultation process which included not only the book world, but also audio-visual professionals. This draft Recommendation seems to be particularly timely, as one of the areas showing a high rate of development in the last ten years has proved to be the so-called "content industry".

Another aspect that I would like to stress concerns the accuracy of the draft Recommendation that goes so deep as to offer a categorisation of professional profiles and competencies. The first have been broadly classified into four core categories: content and technology, design and technology, management and technology, distribution and technology. The second includes the identification of specific skills and qualifications, such as managerial and organisational skills, creative capabilities, competencies in informatics; personal attitudes and legal, communication and linguistic skills.

The aim of this Conference is not only to discuss in detail professional training and empowerment, but also to identify some key aspects of cultural development in what is now conventionally called the convergence environment.

Mergers and alliances are reshaping the existing information and communication industries. Differences among sectors are blurring. These views are not shared by all, and indeed one of the background papers to the present Conference refers to this phenomenon in a critical way; it complements and, to a certain extent, contradicts, the Green Paper on Convergence issued by the European Commission. I would also like to recall that these issues are among the core topics of the Inter-ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation that will be taking place in Seattle in next month.

Another theme of the present Conference is the cultural policy theory and practice. These problems of cultural governance will be brought to the attention of the experts: among others, the coming together of Archives, Libraries and Museums. I am particularly pleased to be able to mention this because Nordic countries are among the most active in Europe in the formulation of what is known as the ALM policy, i.e. close co-operation between cultural institutions.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work done by the organisers of the Conference. The Municipality of Rome has displayed a lot of effort. I would especially like to thank Mayor of Rome, Mr. Rutelli, and his staff for hosting the conference, and Mr. Borgnia, the City Councillor responsible for culture, to have accepted with enthusiasm the proposal made by the Council of Europe to host the conference in Rome. Thanks are also extended to the staff of Biblioteche di Roma, that devoted so much time to this work: Mr. Igino Poggiali, Mr. Lorenzo Baldacchini and Mr. Maurizio Caminito. I would also like to acknowledge the generous support of the organisation "Italia-Lavoro" here represented by its President, Mrs. Matilda Grassi. On the Council of Europe side, we are grateful to Mr. Raymond Weber, Director of the Council of Europe Directorate of Education, Culture and Sport, and his dedicated staff.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are increasingly aware that culture cannot be separated from man's other activities, in fact, we are always in one way or another engaged in cultural endeavours. Culture is the foundation of all progress, generating strength both in individuals and nations to take on new projects in a creative manner.

The cultural policies of individual states are highly influenced by international trends. There exists a risk that one kind of cultural influence becomes so effective that it squeezes others aside. We must fight this development, as it is our duty to ensure diversity, both domestically and at the international level. Culture cannot be used as a source to generate economic progress for any nation unless the same nation protects and fosters its own cultural identity - thereby creating something new and making contributions in a broader context. We should not aim at defining the contents of creativity, we must on the other hand promote cultural creativity and imagination at all branches of society. Moreover, we must respect the right of each person to create art and enjoy it. Creativity and ideas must be stimulated as early as possible. Stimulating the creative spirit of each individual at a young age is just as important as teaching him to read, write and do mathematics. With the help of the new technologies we are presented with unprecedented opportunities in this field.