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Euromed audiovisual in 2004 : the achievements and the future

In less than four years, the MEDA funded Euromed Audiovisual Regional Programme has achieved significant results in fields as diverse as the circulation of films between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the preservation of the South Mediterranean’s audio-visual heritage, the training of professionals, and the production of cartoons and documentaries.

In broader terms, the Programme has enabled audio-visual professionals from the 27 countries and territories (now 35) to get closer together within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and so to lay the first milestones on the way to a common audio-visual area.

Euro-Mediterranean audio-visual professionals and public officials in charge of the sector in the Mediterranean Partners met European Commission representatives in early April in Marseilles to review the first Euromed Audiovisual Regional Programme, and to pave the way for the future. Participants were welcome by Senator-Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin and the City Council. The six projects supported under the € 20 million Euromed Audiovisual I Programme will in effect come to a close at the end of this year. Less than three weeks after this fourth and last Annual Conference, the MED Committee, composed of representatives of EU Member States, gave the green light to a second Euromed Audiovisual Programme which will receive MEDA funding worth € 15 million for three years (2005-2007).

Within the European Commission, Richard Weber heads EuropeAid Cooperation Office’s ‘Mediterranean-Near and Middle East’ Directorate, and oversees MEDA Programmes and Projects. In his Directorate, Leonidas Kioussis is responsible for Regional Programmes related to culture, audio-visual, and information, helped in that by Catherine Colomb-Nancy who follows the Euromed Audiovisual Programme. Euromed Special Feature asked them to outline the Programme’s achievements and prospects in a crucial year for Euro-Mediterranean Co-operation in the audio-visual sector.

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Euromed Special Feature : Mr Weber, how do you assess the position and significance of the audio-visual sector within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the MEDA Programme? And to what extent does ‘Euromed Audiovisual’ contribute to cultural diversity and dialogue between civilisations?

Richard Weber: The Euromed-Audiovisual Programme is a key instrument for inter-cultural dialogue between the Mediterranean Partners and the European Union. All sensitive issues of audio-visual policy are addressed, like for instance the identification of structuring themes, the creation of an area of co-operation for the economic and cultural development of audio-visual media or direct support to the sector. Pictures and media techniques are overwhelmingly and increasingly present in the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge, and in the assertion of cultural diversity. This is why the Programme has a very special place at the heart of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The social, cultural and human partnership facilitates understanding between cultures, and exchanges between civil society players. In this regard the Audiovisual Programme is a challenge. In Europe, the concern in preserving cultural diversity has led to the gradual establishment of a legal framework ensuring free movement of television broadcasts and cinematographic works, to copyright protection, and to the setting up of schemes of support to the audio-visual industry. In 1997 in Thessalonica, it was proposed to extend this European audio-visual policy to our Partners in the Mediterranean basin, and the Audiovisual Programme, worth nearly € 20 million, was agreed. Through this initiative it has been possible to co-finance different types of co-operation projects: Support to the promotion and distribution of cinematographic works; Assistance to production, co-production, and cinema management; Subsidies for training operations and the restoration of archives. During the debates and discussions held within workshops in Marseilles, areas where synergies can be created or developed with institutional partners in each country could be looked at in more detail, and EU priorities on the funding of audio-visual policy in the MEDA region in 2005-2007 could be outlined. In this framework and along the lines discussed in Marseilles, Euro-Mediterranean professionals will be consulted by the end of this year on the setting up of the Audiovisual II Programme.

Significant practical achievements have been recorded in the assessment presented at the Marseilles Conference. Can you briefly describe the most striking ones?

Catherine Colomb-Nancy: The annual Conference aimed primarily to inform television and cinema professionals, in the presence of national officials, of the results achieved in four years of implementing Euromed Audiovisual I Projects. Operations launched within the six projects have brought out very positive reactions from public officials in charge of audio-visual in the Mediterranean Partners. Likewise, genuine interest has been aroused among the general public, both in Europe and in the MEDA Region. As it were, many European and Mediterranean films got a first screening in the larger countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean with the help of the support schemes put in place in 2000-2004. The wider dissemination of Mediterranean films achieved through the same support schemes benefited the European public at the same time. Finally, another achievement of the Programme is that the film industry has begun restructuring into networks similar to those in Europe. Those networks that bring together producers, distributors and cinema managers are already present in the Maghreb, and could be set up in the Mashrak. The Programme has also led to the creation of specialised knowledge-based teams in the fields of scriptwriting, production and co-production, making of cartoons and documentaries, and conservation of national TV archives.

The first Conferences showed the vibrancy of co-operation among Mediterranean Partners, including Israel. Has that been confirmed in Marseilles?

C.C.N.: There was a constructive atmosphere among all Mediterranean Partners’ representatives present at the Conference. Co-operation developed over the four years of the first programme within activities such as training operations, co-productions and the staging of festivals should be reinforced in the next programme, notably to satisfy the legislative and regulatory needs that have been expressed. Those two areas require co-operation between States so that problems such as growing piracy can be addressed effectively, in order to preserve cultural diversity among other things.

Have you got an idea of how the Euromed Audiovisual II Programme will be designed, and how it will link up with other operations supported by the European Commission under MEDA or outside?

R.W.: The central issue discussed by all participants was the need to fight cultural uniformity and the obligation to identify and preserve the wealth and diversity of the Euro-Mediterranean cultural heritage. In this perspective, a multi-faceted audio-visual industry representing the local cultural characteristics of all Mediterranean countries should be maintained and developed. The programme’s budget should be broken down into four main sections.
First of all support should be provided to the production, distribution and dissemination of Mediterranean films by initiating support schemes to encourage the screening of such films in cinemas. The schemes would entail grants for building or restoring cinemas, which would help bring audiences back to those cinemas.
In the same way, in agreement with our Partners’ wishes, we are going to work towards preserving Mediterranean cinematographic works where they are under threat.
We are also going to help those Mediterranean Partners who so wish to structure and harmonise legislation in this area so as to ensure the development of Mediterranean films, to prevent a rise in illegal sales of pirated copies, and to promote cultural diversity in the Partners.
Lastly, as training is a must if we want to ensure the development of the Mediterranean film industry, we will work towards providing Mediterranean professionals with training adapted to the new requirements of competition and the market. This will be along the lines of operations already carried out for European audio-visual professionals in such fields as digital technology, co-production, promotion, and marketing.

Support to investment by cinema owners is one of the suggestions made by participants in the Marseilles Conference. Can you specify the needs and possibilities in this regard?

R.W.: Euromed Audiovisual II will aim to help create and modernise cinemas, to support investment in equipment for digital projection cinemas, and to re-focus grants towards distributing, disseminating and screening Mediterranean films for cinema and television. In addition, while the Euromed Audiovisual I Programme has been more specifically geared towards supporting production so as to bring about the emergence of a Mediterranean film market, the priorities announced for Phase II should rather lead to co-ordination among the most efficient distributors in order to ensure that European and Mediterranean films will be simultaneously released in cinemas in 2004-2007. We will also seek to facilitate the establishment of a coherent production-distribution-screening process.

The need to harmonise the audio-visual legislative and regulatory framework in the Mediterranean Partners to a degree has been mentioned in the Marseilles Conclusions. What activities can be envisaged under Euromed Audiovisual II in this regard?

R.W.: On the basis of consultations with every Ministry and administration, and the industry’s organisations, and to respond to the problems raised in every trade and country, we will try to provide support by either sending experts or encouraging institutional twinning operations. As regards protecting films against piracy, the public should be educated in viewing pictures and made aware of the harmful effects of piracy. In addition, the new Programme will support the establishment of some regulation for the trade in order to provide a more secure basis for its development. It will also offer technical assistance for harmonising legislation among Mediterranean Partners, based on EU existing instruments such as the “Television without frontiers” and the copyright directives.

The technological, mainly digital, revolution is viewed as one of the major challenges in the audio-visual sector on both sides of the Mediterranean. To what extent will the Euromed Audiovisual II Programme, with its new strand on Training, be in a position to meet this concern in a more systematic way than the first Euromed Audiovisual Programme?

R.W.: A ‘Vocational Training’ strand will be developed with support from the European Commission’s Education and Culture Directorate General. As early as 2005-2006, under the MEDA Programme and in co-operation with the MEDIA-Training Programme, Mediterranean audio-visual professionals will be offered a choice of training courses within the range of possibilities now available to European professionals. Thus they will be able to enhance their qualifications and acquire new skills in a great variety of fields. Those training opportunities will cover technical domains such as scriptwriting and learning to use digital equipment, as well as legal and financial aspects like financial engineering, production and co-production management, and marketing.

As far as conservation of audio-visual works is concerned, remarkable results have been achieved under Euromed Audiovisual I in the field of television. Do you envisage applying the same methods to cinema and radio within Euromed Audiovisual II?

C.C.N.: Archive conservation is also a priority for many professionals, and it has been mentioned as such by national authorities from many MEDA Partners. The restoration of radio archives related to major historical events is a significant challenge. The concern in conservation and restoration applies to television and cinema as well as radio, as they are all precious tools for building an historical, cultural and identity-related memory for future generations.

The audio-visual sector is not taken care of by Euromed Audiovisual alone within MEDA. It will also be the subject of a significant part of the ‘Euromed Dialogue’ Information and Communication Programme, under preparation. What sets the two programmes apart and what can possibly connect them?

Leonidas Kioussis: The Euromed Audiovisual II and Information and Communication Programmes both provide instances of the European Commission’s addressing audio-visual issues. You can’t however describe those programmes as similar. The ‘Information and Communication’ Programme actually aims at reinforcing the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership’s visibility by way of programmes broadcast in our Partners through various media, and at explaining the goals and achievements of the MEDA Programme.

Brussels,05 17 2004
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