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UN expert in cultural rights calls for greater scrutiny and control of commercial advertising

NEW YORK / GENEVA (28 October 2014) – From food consumption models to burial rituals, social behavior and beauty canons, commercial messaging can deeply influence peoples’ beliefs, aspirations, cultural values and practices, today said the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed.

In her report to the UN General Assembly on the impact of commercial advertising and marketing practices on cultural rights, Ms. Shaheed called for increased scrutiny of the advertising and marketing industry and urged Governments to actively protect freedom of thought, opinion and expression, cultural diversity and ways of life, the rights of children with respect to education and leisure, academic and artistic freedom and the right to participate in cultural life and to enjoy the arts.

“States wishing to protect cultural diversity need to protect their societies from undue levels of commercial advertising and marketing while increasing the space for not-for-profit expressions,” the human rights expert said. In her view, such protection would support and open up the democratic debate, as opposed to interfering with the right to freedom of thought and opinion.

“The increasingly blurred line between commercial advertising and other content, the myriad advertisements people receive daily, the dissemination of such communications through a large variety of media used in a systematic and integrated way and the resort to techniques aimed at circumventing individual rational decision-making raise serious concern,” she added.

Ms. Shaheed explained that her concern is not that change occurs in cultural practices and world views, but rather relates to the disproportionate and omnipresent nature of commercial advertising and marketing in our societies, which contribute to shifting practices towards consumption and uniformity.

The Special Rapporteur noted particular concern about the growing presence of advertising in schools. “Schools should be considered as a distinct cultural space, deserving special protection from commercial influence,” she stressed. “A recommendation to ban all commercial advertising and marketing in public and private schools is one of the most important ones put forward in my report.”

“I also recommend to prohibit all forms of advertising to children under 12 years of age, regardless of the medium or means used, with the possible extension of such prohibition to children under 16 years of age, and to ban the practice of child brand ambassadors,” she stated.

Ms. Shaheed also expressed concern at the increased dependency of print and audiovisual media on advertising revenue coupled with the increased concentration of advertising groups. “This can significantly impact editorial content and cultural programming,” she said.

“In various countries, organizations denouncing excessive advertising and illegal billboards have been largely ignored and have found themselves facing defamation lawsuits by advertising companies,” she said, underlining the dominance of certain specific narratives over others in our societies and the link between power and culture. “They do not enjoy the same support from authorities as advertising companies that complain about their billboards being vandalized.”

The Special Rapporteur also pointed out the sharp disparity between the often slow action taken when removing illegal billboards, compared with the far greater resources devoted to removing illegal graffiti or artistic murals. “What is the space given to art compared to advertising?”, she asked.

(*) Check the full report (A/69/286): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/newyork/Pages/HRreportstothe69thsessionGA.aspx

Ms. Farida Shaheed took up her functions as Independent Expert and then Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in August 2009. She has worked for more than 25 years promoting and protecting cultural rights by fostering policies and projects designed in culturally sensitive ways to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities. Ms. Shaheed has been the recipient of several national and international human rights awards, and is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organisation and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/CulturalRights/Pages/SRCulturalRightsIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York:
André-Michel Essoungou, (+1 917 367 9995 / Cell: +1 917 940 0685 / essoungou@un.org)
Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / Cell: +1 917 941 7558 / vasic@un.org)
In Geneva: Mylène Bidault (+41 22 917 9254 / mbidault@ohchr.org) or write to srculturalrights@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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