Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Global Debates on the Right to Communicate

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Global Debates on the Right to Communicate

Article excerpt


This article analyzes the three-decade evolution of the right to communicate debates. There are two stages of this global debate: intergovernmental and civil society. Intergovernmental efforts reached an impasse when crippled by cold war pressures and the politicization of the right to communicate. Once the domain of governmental actors, when the right to communicate was no longer on the agenda in intergovernmental platforms, civil society stepped in to promote communication rights. Many non-governmental organizations came together under the umbrella of communication rights. The Communication Rights in the Information Study (CRIS) campaign is investigated as a specific case study of transnational collective action for communication rights since it is a visible example of a global expression of the right to communicate movement.

Keywords: Civil Society; Communication Rights; Global Governance; Human Rights; Right to Communicate; Social Movement; World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).


The concept of the right to communicate originates from Article 19 of the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers." Jean d'Arcy, director of radio and visual services in the UN office of public information, is credited with being the first to coin the term "right to communicate". Indeed, in 1969 d'Arcy said "The time will come when the UDHR will have to encompass a more extensive right than man's right to information, first laid down 21 years ago in Article 19. This is the right of man to communicate. It is the angle from which the future development of communications will have to be considered if it is to be fully understood" (d'Arcy, 1969:14). However, d'Arcy did not provide a definition of a right to communicate, and debates between academics, legal experts, and government officials in numerous countries on the right to communicate have continued for decades. Indeed, the right to communicate has become an issue on the global sphere (Calabrese, 1999).

This article analyzes the evolution of the right to communicate debates. By tracing the history and evolution of the debates, this article aims to provide context around this critical issue and provide some reasons as to why the debate has continued for over three decades. I discuss the right to communicate debate in terms of two key phases: intergovernmental and global civil society. The first phase is characterized by discussions of the issue between actors at intergovernmental forums. This phase reached an impasse during the 1980s, which reflects both a shift in global governance structures and conditions specifically related to the debate itself, such as its attachment to NWICO. The second phase is characterized by global civil society actors picking up the right to communicate debate in the wake of this impasse. However, instead of reaching conclusions over key issues within the right to communicate debate, this phase has witnessed further questions being raised, such as legitimacy of global governance structures, the existence of a social movement around the right to communicate, and the success of non-governmental actors in influencing the debate. This article will investigate these issues through a case study of a campaign highly involved in the right to communicate debates-the Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS). Beyond the questions already raised, I suggest that the right to communicate debate remains unsettled because of a lack of a universal definition of the right to communicate and because of the tension between national regulatory bodies attempting to regulate international communication issues and transnational information flows.

Importance of the Right to Communicate

Throughout history, communication and information have been fundamental sources of power (Castells, 2007). …

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