WACC and SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, held a roundtable discussion in Rome on 17 April 2013 that explored concepts of communication rights.
WACC officers and SIGNIS executive committee members as well as WACC members, friends and partners met at the Domus Internationalis in Rome and participants noted the two organizations are in discussions about further cooperation.
SIGNIS General Secretary Alvito de Souza and President Augy Loorthusamy attended with other members of the SIGNIS Executive Committee.
WACC General Secretary the Rev. Karin Achtelstetter welcomed participants and drew attention to regional cooperation between WACC and SIGNIS members in Europe and Latin America.
“When Alvito de Souza and I met for the first time in Aachen (Germany) in the summer of 2011, we quickly realized that we were speaking the same language of social justice,” she said.
WACC and SIGNIS jointly make an annual award to a documentary film, called the SIGNIS-WACC Human Rights Award.
The origins of the right to communicate are “often held to be the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) of the 1980s, against the background of the publication of the MacBride Report called Many Voices, One World (1980),” Lee said.
Over the years, communication has come to be seen as a human right. “Communication makes people who and what they are, and motivates them to act. Communication strengthens human dignity and affirms human equality,” he said.
However, the concept continues to be controversial. “Governments everywhere – and I make no exceptions – are still fearful that communication rights … might lead to genuine democracy and political accountability. Media corporations are afraid that communication rights will limit monopolies and decrease their profits. The rich are afraid that communication rights will enfranchise the poor and the world’s despots … are afraid that communication rights will cause them to give up their status, privileges, and power and will ultimately contrive their downfall,” Lee said.
He described a WACC partnership in Bolivia that is exploring how communication rights can strengthen the ability of people and communities to claim entitlements in four key areas: health, education, housing and employment.
Social media can be used as a tool to build greater understanding between communities -- but it can also be a source of misinformation in times of crisis, Lee noted.
“What we seem to be witnessing today is a shift towards debating communication rights in the framework of the potential offered by digital platforms and social media, with pressing claims for open access and user-generated content as the nexus of democratic freedom and accountability,” he concluded.
The full text of the paper may be accessed here.