Revisiting Media and Human Rights

By Tomaselli, Keyan; Young, Miranda | Critical Arts, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Revisiting Media and Human Rights


Tomaselli, Keyan, Young, Miranda, Critical Arts


The post-Cold War period has seen a much greater emphasis than previously on democratisation, human and media rights, the right to communicate, and the communication of rights. A host of new charters have emerged, the People's Communication Charter being possibly the most debated. These Charters appeared in the mid-1990s at a time when the global Left was reorganising following the end of the Cold War (and apartheid), prior to reappearing with a bang during the Seattle and Davos meetings of the World Trade Organisation, and other institutions of big capital like the IMF and World Bank.

This issue of Critical Arts represents its coming of age issue. To mark 21 years of publishing we reprint here Nadine Gordimer's article, "New Forms of Strategy--No Change of Heart", published in our second issue, in 1980. Written during apartheid, Gordimer's impassioned and insightful article reminds us how far we have come. In the 21 years since this article was first written, much has changed in Southern Africa, and globally. However, the liberation that was so nobly fought for has brought with it different demands: the challenge of living in a global world where the market `decides', the challenge of being a developing nation with the inevitable and often shielding discourses of `developmental media', the challenge of being a fledgling democracy with its emphasis on `nation-building' and the conformity of political discourse that often results, and the challenge of helping to revitalise Africa as a whole (as articulated in Thabo Mbeki's vision of the "African renaissance").

Apartheid was a regime which penetrated all aspects of life, public, private and psychological. In her response aptly entitled "Twenty-One Years Later", Gordimer discusses these struggles, urging us to be courageous and open in our continual fight for freedom, for freedom is not something to be fought and won, the fight must be continual; for the moment we forget what we have won ... we have lost.

In this regard the thrust of Chris Merrett's article identifies the demise of activist organisations and the onset of paranoia as features of the post-apartheid period. A demise in critical documentation has been one result. Issues of a critical citizenry are the basis of democracy, and John Williams's opening paper sets the conceptual scene. His argument is that South Africa's new discourse of declarative citizenship sidelines popular participation and that "institutional defiance" militates against citizenship. …

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