Conceptual basis of the ggp project

“Communication rights” group together various elements of human rights as they relate to different moments of society’s communication processes, including the production of knowledge and ideas, media and modes of dissemination, and the capacity to use them for economic, political cultural and other purposes. They are of growing relevance to people as they grapple with huge changes in the area of communication, knowledge and media in the last few decades. They are especially important to the exercise of democratic principles, as they underpin the public sphere and spaces in which people and communities from local to global level can interact and articulate their views regarding their futures.

In theory, many key aspects of communication rights are included in legally binding Treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and International Covenant of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, to which virtually every government is a signatory. The practice on the ground, however, is very different. All of these Treaties are virtually unenforceable, lacking the instruments to compel compliance by signatory states. They provide little more than moral and political guidance, too often ignored.

Some aspects of communication rights issues are now moving beyond national control anyhow, shifted up a level, their governance taking on a global dimension.

First, media and communications, as industries and as practice, have become globalised, with multi-media corporations spanning the world, spurred by the convergence of digital technology and of content. Yet governance structures have been unable to follow suit. Increasingly, the quality and nature of media at national level are determined beyond the nation state, for instance through externally based direct broadcast satellite, the Internet, imported press, and so forth.

Where global governance structures do cover media and communication, they are of two kinds.

· Most have been developed in the context of asserting the primacy of trade rules, complete with powerful sanctions to ensure compliance, such as the WTO’s GATS governing publications and possibly in the future the audio-visual sector. These can even endanger communication rights, examples including a refusal to accept the protection of culture integrity as adequate justification for active (and hence ‘discriminatory’) support for local publishers.

· Other global governance instruments of relevance, from UNESCO Conventions on culture and education to the binding Treaties mentioned above, are little more than inspirational in nature, and as noted lack the instruments to secure compliance.

The net effect is that governance of key aspects of communication rights at national level (in the first place never fully equipped to fulfil its task) are now being, on the one hand, sidestepped and rendered irrelevant by global corporations and, on the other, weakened by global trade related agreements. Communication Rights at national level are being undermined by a weakness of governance structures at global level.

But the main threat to communication rights is also shifting. While government control and manipulation of the media was of primary concern in the past, and remains so in some respects, the growing danger now is the inability of governance structures to curb the commercialisation and commodification of media and communication and hence to moderate the specific distortions and vested interests that are thereby promoted. Indeed, in some instances we see a particularly dangerous collusion of government and commercial media, in both developed and developing countries.

At the same time there is also emerging what can be described as a global civil society, constituted by growing numbers of networks, coalitions, NGOs, communities of interests and individuals active on issues from a global perspective and in a global arena. Ironically, this has emerged partly as a result of, and in response to, the globalisation of commercial media. But, demonstrating that ICTs can also be used to strengthen the communication rights, global civil society has begun to build alternative global media from a civil society perspective, the Internet being the most popular medium but also using (or in combination with) television, video, radio and traditional media. The focus of attention and sphere of influence of global civil society is also turning towards global governance structures, including those that would be relevant to the communication rights globally and nationally, although this is as yet in its early stages.