UNESCO-study in support of freedom of musical expression

A new study carried out for UNESCO by the International Music Council underlines the importance of freedom of musical expression while listing examples of suppression and censorship of music in numerous countries around the world

The study entitled ‘The Protection And Promotion Of Musical Diversity’ is intended to reveal the situation of musical diversity in the world. It has been commissioned by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which has a position in support of cultural – and therefore also musical – diversity, and was carried out by the International Music Council in June 2006 with Richard Letts as principal investigator.

Musical diversity depends on whether there is freedom of musical expression. As such, the full first chapter, entitled ‘Musical diversity and human rights’ is devoted to giving the reader an overview of the situation for musicians in a number of countries. A number of examples are given of suppression that is clearly politically motivated, and where musical expression or musical diversity have been repressed by action of government.

“The description of measures taken in Belarus would almost be comical if it were not so serious for its citizens,” it is stated in the report which notes that the special situation in Belarus “seems to be a compendium of repressions overt and covert”.

Cultural identity questions

In a diversity perspective, the report describes various ways in which musical diversity might be threatened. For instance, governments faced with multiple ethnicities within their populations may seek their assimilation into a single cultural identity, banning the musical expression of the minorities in the interests of national cohesion. Or religious fundamentalism may seek to silence music completely.

The consultant in Morocco writes that music of the Megri, the Nass El Ghiwane and ra’i has been stifled during the last few decades by the government or associations supporting Arab Moroccan song and Andalusian music, but nevertheless has been able to survive this form of discrimination.


The International Music Council engaged consultants from regions on the five continents. They bring a strong knowledge of the situation in their respective music sectors. As an appendix to the report there are detailed Consultant’s Reports from Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon, Congo, South Africa, China, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Albania, Austria, the Balkans, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, EU, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Kingdom.

Trouble in Turkey

Along with Belarus, Turkey is singled out by the European consultants.
“The situation of Human Rights in Turkey is disputable,” they write in the UNESCO-study:

“Despite several reforms there are reports about a broad range of restrictions to the freedom of expression. (…) The new penal law allows sanctions, e.g. article 305 bans activities against basic national interests, which can be prosecuted with three to ten years of prison. (…) This law does in fact censor a critical debate about Turkish history.
So in music, the basis for these sanctions would again be the verbal content. But in the next instance, it was not the meaning of the lyrics but the language in which they were sung that brought retaliation.
There are newspaper reports about the police having taken people into custody during a wedding because they were singing songs in Kurdish despite the fact that the Kurdish language is no longer forbidden.
There are reports about prosecutions of journalists, musicians and TV producers as well as the ban on journals. RTÜK, the Supreme Institution for Radio and TV has the authority to temporarily ban radio or TV transmissions for days, months or years. This results in self-censorship so that direct censorship is not necessary at all. There are auditing commissions of the Turkish Ministry of Culture on the phonogram industry. Producers have to acquire a general producer’s licence and a permission document for each production. They need a signed document declaring that nothing in the production contradicts the ‘Rules of Audition’ as well as accepting complete legal responsibility for the lyrics, if they are not in Turkish.”

While the European consultants single out Belarus and Turkey, things do not go so well in some other countries, according to the study, such as France, United Kingdom, Greece and Germany.

Freemuse is often quoted in the chapter, and under the subtitle “a watchful ear” Freemuse is described as “a wonderful organization based in the relative safety of Copenhagen that draws public attention to acts of musical suppression around the world.”

The official announcement of the publication of the study follows below:


A detailed study of the situation of musical diversity in the world, The Protection and Promotion of Musical Diversity, has been published online by the International Music Council (IMC). It can be accessed in two files on the IMC home page at www.unesco.org/imc

The study addresses issues including:

• The relationship between the situation of musical diversity and the situation of human rights

• Musical diversity and sustainable development, covering aspects of the use of music in broader development, the use of music to alleviate poverty, and the development of a music industry

• Musical diversity and its potential contribution to peace

• Government standards and regulations that impact positively or negatively on musical diversity

• Musical diversity and the imposition of a monoculture, including commentary on the potential use and misuse of the new UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions

• Musical diversity and issues around personal and community identity

• Challenges and responses to musical diversity: an extensive exploration of various circumstances in which musical diversity is endangered and actions that might be taken in its support.

This study was instigated by Katérina Stenou of UNESCO and undertaken by the International Music Council. It addresses an issue of great concern to many in the music world and provides a most fortunate opportunity to explore the many challenges and opportunities for musical diversity.

The Principal Investigator for the study was Dr. Richard Letts, who is the President of the IMC and the Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia. To assist in achieving a global perspective on a global issue, the IMC engaged consultants from representative regions on the five continents. Most of the consultants are associated with the IMC and brought a strong knowledge of the situation in the music sectors of more than 50 countries in the Arab world, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The study is organised around the themes indicated above. A set of appendices delivers the reports from each of the consultants or consultant groups, so that the reader can follow the situation of all the themes in each geographical area.

Dr. Richard Letts et al: The Protection and Promotion of Musical Diversity. International Music Council, Paris, 2006 www.unesco.org/imc

For information, contact Silja Fischer, Executive Officer, International Music Council, at +33 1 4568 4850 or imc[AT]unesco.org



Click to download the report in pdf


‘The Protection And Promotion Of Musical Diversity’ – a study conducted by the International Music Council and commissioned by UNESCO, published in November 2006:

Click to download report in pdfThe report in pdf
Click to download the appendices in pdfThe appendices in pdf