chapter  13
24 Pages

Debating Communication Imbalances: From the MacBride Report to the WSIS

WithCLAUDIA PADOVANI

World Politics and Communication: Historical Precedents and Contemporary Transformations Some of the authors who have written about the WSIS remind us of its legacy with the history of communication in the UN system. Marc Raboy recalls that:

e WSIS is the third attempt by the United Nations system to deal globally with information and communication issues. In 1948 . . . . the Universal Declaration on Human Rights spelled out, for all, what the great revolutions of the 18th century had struggled to obtain for Europeans and Americans: that the capacity to seek, receive and impart information is a basic human right. In the 1970s . . . the non-aligned nations sparked a debate on a “new world information and communication order,” drawing attention to such questions as the inequalities in north-south information ow, the cultural bias of technology and the lack of communication infrastructure in the so-called third world. 1948 was a moment of consensus, but the debates of the 1970s were fraught with conict, as is well known. (2004a, 225)

Ulla Carlsson, in reviewing the role of the United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientic, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the evolution of international agreements in the eld of information and communication, reminds us that no less than forty-one international conventions and declarations were adopted between 1948 and 1980, which “focused on the legal status of various elements in mass communication and specify objects for regulation on a multilateral basis” (2003, 36).1 In the mid-1970s, there were crucial debates around the proposal of a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). e underlying idea, in a time of decolonization and new international roles played by newly independent states, was that no real independence would have been possible unless real political, economic, and cultural autonomy for all states could be obtained. e proposal of a NWICO was discussed in several forums, particularly within the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, but also in the General Assembly of the UN and in UNESCO, raising harsh conicts, mainly due to the Cold War climate of the time, which favored the opposing superpowers and shadowed the original motives and voices behind the proposal (Pasquali 2005). Such demands concerned a number of issues, which have been synthesized as the “four Ds”: democratization (need for pluralism of sources of news and information), decolonization (struggle for independence from foreign structures and self-reliance), demonopolization (denouncing concentration of ownership in media industries), and development (Nordenstreng 1984). Actions

were required to bring about changes in the international communication context in which states could “develop their cultural system in an autonomous way and with complete sovereign control of resources, fully and eectively participate as independent members of the international community” (Hamelink, cited in Carlsson 2003, 43).