Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Cultural Battle

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A Cultural Battle

Article excerpt

A cultural battle

WITH the fantastic technological progress made over recent decades in the audio-visual media, information has come within the reach of everyone. And this prodigious revolution is one of the fruits of liberty, for it was the free countries--the "open societies", to use Karl Popper's term, that have adopted and encouraged the democratic way of life, tolerance, the rule of law and peaceful coexistence amidst diversity--that were the seed-beds of that individual initiative and industrial competition that gave rise to the extraordinary technological advances thanks to which information is now part of the universal heritage.

Just as a climate of liberty made technological development possible, this development, in turn, has enabled liberty to take root and spread throughout the world. With their ability to illuminate reality, honestly and objectively, the audio-visual media will have a greater contribution to make to the advance of liberty, of the democratic way of life, than any other public power or cultural force.

Ensuring the free flow of information and the right to critical judgement is the first problem a country has to solve before it can provide a satisfactory solution to any of its other problems. This is no exaggeration; it is a lesson that has been learned from historical experience. Freedom of information and the right to dissent are more than essential principles; they are a practical necessity for societies that really want to move ahead and are constantly attempting to overcome their weaknesses.

The only way in which a society can avoid, not making mistakes, but persisting in error is by subjecting its actions constantly to the test of the free circulation of information and of critical assessment. For a Latin American this is a self-evident fact. The history of Latin American countries is rich in examples of the way in which the best of intentions can have the most catastrophic results and of how proposed solutions based on sentimental attitudes, ideological principles or abstract concepts, entirely divorced from practical experience, can give rise to measures that are counter-productive in both economic and social terms.

The 'litmus test'

of critical appraisal

We have seen how populist regimes, regimes with strong social motivation and regimes bent on reform have aggravated poverty and increased unemployment and even fanned the flames of violence and social conflict simply because the models they attempted to apply had not, as they were being drawn up, been subjected to the "litmus test" of critical appraisal, to the yardstick of reality, to direct examination by those who stood to benefit or suffer from them rather than by their instigators.

Respect for freedom of information and the right to critical appraisal should, therefore, head the list of reforms of any government that desires effectively to improve and modernize society and remedy its defects.

Practically speaking, however, what is meant by freedom of expression and the right to make critical judgements?

We all know instinctively when this freedom exists, when it has disappeared or when it survives only in a symbolic or perverted form. Nevertheless, I shall offer a definition which, I feel, sums up what we all know and feel on this subject.

It might be said that a society enjoys freedom of expression when, through the various means of communication, its citizens are able to criticize the powers-that-be--not only the political powers, but also the economic, military and ecclesiastical powers, as well as the representatives of various social institutions such as trade unions and, of course, the information media themselves.

The free flow of information and the right to critical judgement, exercised through the media, are the most effective way of blocking the predisposition to grow and to persist unimpeded that is inherent in all power blocs. …

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