Vision and Context
Communication plays a central role in politics, economics, and culture in societies across the globe. Information and communication technologies, together with the political will to implement communication rights, can provide vital new opportunities for political interaction, social and economic development, and cultural sustainability. The means to achieve these ends include universal access of all to the means of communication and information and to a diversity of media throughout the world.
Communication is a fundamental social process and the foundation of all social organization. It is more than the mere transmission of messages. Communication is human interaction among individuals and groups through which identities and meanings are shaped. Communication rights are based on a vision of the free flow of information and ideas which is interactive, egalitarian and non-discriminatory and driven by human needs, rather than commercial or political interests. These rights represent people's claim to freedom, inclusiveness, diversity and participation in the communication process.
Our vision of communication rights is based upon the recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all people.
While recognizing the great potential of communication in contemporary societies, we also draw attention to some of the problems facing full recognition of communication rights. The problem of political control and interference with freedom of expression remains a central concern. Along with media saturation comes a dependency upon the media for knowledge about the world, a dependency that is greater in times of armed conflict. At the same time, the influence of propaganda and censorship has never been so widespread.
Communication has become big global business. Many of its products and services are shaped by commercial goals instead of considerations based on the common good. The global media market is largely controlled by a small number of giant conglomerates, endangering the diversity and independence of information flows. This threat to diversity is heightened by current trends in international trade negotiations, which risk subjecting 'culture' to the same rules as commodities and undermining indigenous culture, knowledge and heritage. On the other hand, strict intellectual property regimes create information enclosures and pose critical obstacles to emerging 'knowledge' societies.
The exclusion of large numbers of people from the democratic political process due to the lack of effective means of participation is another challenge for communication rights. This problem is exacerbated by the expansion of 'around the clock' powers to monitor and intercept communications, justified in the name of security but almost universally abused.
New technologies and a more profound understanding of communication rights have the power to make information and knowledge more readily available to people everywhere and to transform social and political processes. However, much remains to be done for this to become a reality. Global communication remains far from universal, with most of the world's people still excluded from meaningful access to communication, information and the media.
With the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community recognised the inherent dignity of all members of the human family by providing everyone with equal and inalienable rights. Communication rights are intrinsically bound up with the human condition and are based on a new, more powerful understanding of the implications of human rights and the role of communications. Without communication rights, human beings cannot live in freedom, justice, peace and dignity. The recognition of this universal human need has inspired us to set out a statement on communication rights based upon the key principles of Freedom, Inclusiveness, Diversity and Participation. *
The core of communication rights is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims: "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and opinion; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." This basic freedom is also recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), in other UN treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13), and in all three main regional human rights instruments (Africa, the Americas and Europe).
Despite these guarantees, censorship remains a reality as humankind embarks on the 21st century. Political and commercial pressures on independent news reporting are ever-present and freedom of speech on the Internet is under serious threat in many parts of the world. The right to freedom of expression is also increasingly under threat from significantly enhanced State powers to monitor and intercept communications around the world. It is crucial that the international community adopts robust rules and mechanisms to secure effectively the confidentiality of private communications. It is therefore urgent that we renew global commitment to freedom of information and expression as "the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated", as stated in The United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 59(I), adopted at its very first session in 1946.
International human rights treaties include many provisions designed to guarantee inclusiveness, such as universal access to information and knowledge, universal access to education, protection of the cultural life of communities and equal sharing of advancements in science and technology. In the current global reality, however, large numbers of people are excluded from access to the basic means of communication, such as telephony, broadcasting and the Internet. Access to information about matters of public concern is also unduly limited, and is also very unequal between and within societies. True commitment to inclusiveness requires the allocation of considerable material and non-material resources by the international community and national governments to overcome these obstacles.
Worldwide, existing forms of cultural, informational and linguistic diversity are seriously threatened. Diversity in culture, language and communication is as critical to the sustainability of the planet as the world's biological and natural diversity. Communication diversity is crucial to democracy and political participation, to the right of all people to promote, protect and preserve their cultural identity and the free pursuit of their cultural development.
Diversity is needed at a number of levels including the availability of a wide range of different sources of information, diversity of ownership in the media and forms of access to the media that ensure that the views of all sectors and groups in society are heard.
International human rights stress the importance of people's participation in political processes which from the perspective of communication rights implies the right to have one's views taken into account. In this context, the equal participation of women and the participation of minorities and marginalized groups is particularly important. Communication is essential to the processes of political decision-making. As the role of media in modern politics expands, this should not obstruct but rather support the participation of people in the political process through the development of participatory governance at all levels
Vision and Reality
Communication rights remain for most of the world's people a vision and an aspiration. They are not a reality on the ground. On the contrary, they are frequently and systematically violated. Governments must be constantly reminded that they are legally required under the human rights treaties they have ratified to implement, promote and protect communication rights. Communication rights are the expression of fundamental needs. The satisfaction of these needs requires a strong political will and the allocation of substantial resources. Lack of commitment to such resources serves only to deepen the global distrust of political institutions.
At the same time, full implementation of communication rights cannot depend only upon governments. Civil society has a key role to play in terms of advocacy for rights, in terms of monitoring and exposing rights abuse and in terms of educating and popularising rights.
Encouraging and facilitating people to assert these rights through different types of social action and to use them to realize the enormous potential of both the old and new technologies of media and communication, are vital tasks for all concerned people.
We endorse this Statement as an expression of our commitment to communication rights and we further undertake to develop an International Charter on Communication Rights with the widest possible support as a common standard to which every individual and every organ of society should take action to achieve.
Geneva, 11 December 2003
* The most relevant references to communication rights in international human rights instruments.
On the principle of freedom:
Freedom of Expression:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Article 19
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), Article 19
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Article 13
Protection of privacy:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Article 12
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), Article 17
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), Article 16
On the principle of inclusiveness:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Articles 19, 21, 28.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), Articles 13, 15.
Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation (1966), Article IV (4).
On the principle of diversity:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), Articles 1 (1), 27 .
Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (1995), Article 5.
On the principle of participation:
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Articles 21, 27.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), Article 25.