Věra Jourová, vice-president of the European Commission for values and transparency, has decided to target fake news and disinformation. She calls it “potentially even more dangerous” than conventional weaponry.
Russia’s propaganda campaign surrounding its invasion of Ukraine has prompted this action, but it is also an excellent opportunity to address all of the fake news surrounding antiquities. Those guilty of promoting it include the media, governments, NGOs, campaign groups and even law enforcement.
Cultural property has become an important soft power diplomacy tool in recent years. The incentive for interest groups and individuals to spread false evidence and data as propaganda has grown substantially as a result. Equally corrosive has the been the failure to check the validity of claims. Lack of time and resources is at fault, but so is confirmation bias. If the claim fits your narrative, why bother to check whether it is true or not?
How to begin
Ironically, this applied to the European Commission’s own Fact Sheet, Questions and Answers on the illegal import of cultural goods to finance terrorism. Published on July 13, 2017, it set out the evidence on which the EC relied to press ahead with its import licensing proposals for cultural property and the art market. Researching the sources of its data and claims back to their original sources show clearly that they are groundless.
UNESCO’s 50th anniversary campaign, The Real Price of Art, and its bogus $10 million figure as the annual value of cultural property trafficking, have attracted extensive reporting in the media, but both are bogus and easily checked.
Many other questions arise over claims made by public bodies that should know better. The ADA and IADAA have exposed a large number of them for what they are. It is time that the authorities got a grip on this for the benefit of public confidence as well as better policy.
CINOA, the global trade federation for dealers in the international art market, with 5,000-plus members, has published a wide-ranging new report that exposes the causes and sources of bogus information used to damage the market.
From the deliberate dissemination of false evidence, as seen in the October 2020 UNESCO advertising campaign, The Real price of art, to the misreporting of facts, the report shows how many bodies of international standing, from NGOs to law enforcement and even governments, perpetuate falsehoods about the art and antiques market.
It also demonstrates how the bogus evidence – as well as its constant reinforcement via the media and other sources – has directly influenced policy, including new laws that damage the market.
One of the most shocking aspects of all this has been the clear failure of highly influential bodies such as the European Commission and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime to properly check the sources of the information that they publish; the repercussions for legitimate interests have echoed down the years.
Another shameful feature is just how much of the false information now being relied on can be traced back to media articles and other reports that are decades old and either do not carry the information claimed at all or whose evidence has been completely misreported as it has been filtered through other sources over time.
Frequently cited claims that prove to have no foundation in fact whatsoever include:
- Trafficking in cultural property is third only to that in drugs and weapons
- 80-90% of sales of antiquities involve goods with illicit origins
- Cultural property trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry
However, bearing in mind the time, resources and legislation already dedicated to this subject in recent years, perhaps the most startling fact CINOA publishes is that it cannot find a single instance anywhere in the world of an arrest or seizure of artworks leading to confirmation that the items in question have been used to fund terrorism. Considering how keen the authorities are to demonstrate the link between the art market and terrorist financing, it is hard to believe that they would not engage in a major media campaign to publicise such a case if it ever arose.
Quite apart from the unwarranted damage this lack of probity has inflicted on the innocent, it has also led to a wider failure of policy, with real problems that need dealing with under international conventions and other agreements being ignored in favour of the pursuit of propaganda-fuelled ideology. While the report focuses on the repercussions for the art market, the institutional failures resulting from this misguided policy have claimed other victims, notably vulnerable cultural heritage sites and the vulnerable people living near them, who should enjoy better support as they are asked to help in the protection of their heritage.
Much of this inappropriate policy development is funded by public money, yet acts against the public interest. Even when its failures are drawn to the attention of the authorities responsible, as those involving UNESCO and the European Commission have been, they ignore or dismiss them and carry on as before. It is hard to think of any other walk of life where such scandalous behaviour would go unpunished, let alone continue to be encouraged and even celebrated.
Unlike many of the bodies it takes to task, the report provides properly checked primary sources, including weblinks, for all the data it publishes, so that they can readily be verified independently.
The European Commission’s 199-page Deloitte report into tackling cultural property trafficking now confirms that there is no evidence at all that terrorism-related cultural goods are entering the EU, or that an illicit market in cultural property run by organised crime exists.
Despite this, the European Commission plans to press ahead with more restrictive import/export legislation from January 2019 to tackle a problem it has identified does not exist, even though the Deloitte report acknowledges this will damage the international art market.
Read Ivan Macquisten’s latest blog summarising the issues at hand.
The European Commission has announced that it will press ahead with controversial proposals for restricting the import of cultural property to members states. The news comes on the back of a survey of stakeholders across the European Union, including the art and antiques trade, to gauge the impact of such changes. As Ivan Macquisten’s latest blog explains, submissions by the ADA, IADAA and others appears to have been ignored in favour of poorly researched and inaccurate evidence.
The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, supported by CINOA and the ADA, has written to the Regulatory Scrutiny Board (RSB) that assessed the impact assessment for this exercise and found it seriously wanting yet ultimately passed the measures. The letter asks the RSB to reconsider its position and re-evaluate the evidence in order to avoid a damaging outcome.