Intersessional Meeting in Paris
  Governments topple communication rights
  23 July 2003. The Intersessional Meeting in Paris finally brought the Right to Communicate on the agenda of the WSIS process. Whereas originally communication rights had been debated only within Civil Society, the Paris meeting forced governments to take a position on the issue and highlighted communication rights as a central theme of conflict. In a working group, which was established to come to an agreement on the issue, several delegations blocked the concept of communication rights and only accepted weaker terms such as "freedom to information".

The Right to Communicate had been introduced to the debate especially by the CRIS Campaign. It involves a broader conception of rights than traditional freedom of expression and press freedom rights, and it is designed to go much further than merely allowing for information provision. Rather it supports interactive, participatory communication processes, and it seeks to replace - or at least complement - hierarchical information distribution by horizontal communication.

Around previous preparation conferences, the concept had caused controversial debates between some civil society organisations which feared that the introduction of a new right could compromise enforcement of existing freedom of expression rights. Media organisations were particularly hostile due to the threat to media-controlled information monopolies through interactive communication standards. However by far the largest part of Civil Society included communication rights as a central demand on their agenda. Communication rights were explicitly highlighted in the priorities document of Civil Society, and the latest version of the official summit declaration before the Intersessional Meeting also mentioned them.

However at the Paris meeting, strong resistance against this inclusion in the declaration became apparent - not just from the media lobby, but also from government delegations such as Mexico, Egypt and the US. A working group chaired by Canada was established. Italy participated for the European Union in their role as current EU president, but, not surprisingly, argued against communication rights. A number of civil society organisations and networks embarked on several fruitless attempts to give the group positive input regarding a recognition of communication rights. The group however refused to recognise a detailed civil society statement (no right to speak, or: no right to communicate). Amongst the few government delegations sympathetic towards the concept of communication rights was the Swiss deleation.

Finally the working group was not able to agree on a recognition of communication rights and deleted the term from the draft declaration. The reason put forward by several delegations was that it would not be possible to define new human rights just like that. A compromise proposal by the European Union to introduce a "freedom to communicate" was blocked by Egypt in particular. The new draft declaration suggests three possible options for the paragraph which formerly included the right to communicate. These options mainly refer to the freedom to access information, thereby getting rid of the emancipatory potential of communication rights.

Read Alice Munya's speech on communication rights in the government plenary, and the report on Prepcom.Net.

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