A “brand-new” world communication order: BNWCO?
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A “brand-new” world communication order: BNWCO?

Aliaa Dakroury

There is always a “once upon a time” prologue in stories, but they do not necessarily end with “happily ever after”. I am not sharing any spoiler when I argue that it is a very familiar story of human communication. The story of our human need to communicate on the one hand, and the barriers imposed on such communication daily on the other. How so? Let’s review some of these instances of real challenges to our enjoyment of human communication.

As a start, let’s agree that humanity has always been curious to discover ways to communicate over distance; this happened thousands of years ago, when human beings used light, signals, and sound to communicate. This was followed by the use of symbols, languages, up to the age of print. World War II was instrumental in highlighting a list of needs for all human beings regardless of their background (be it race, gender, culture, colour. etc..) as a result of the atrocities of this war. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt, the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, holding up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. So many promises and so many high hopes to overcome WWII’s harmful acts with the Declaration’s 30 articles.

Fast-forward to 2024, the United Nations is preparing for a “Summit of the Future” to discuss solutions for a better tomorrow! If I were to submit a white paper for this meeting, I would appeal to the audience, observers, advocates and importantly policymakers to take note of the need for a “Brand New World Communication Order” BNWCO!

There are a number of urgent challenges that need to be discussed on the international front to fully realize the future and great potential of information and communication for humankind: from freedom of movement, access to information, fairness in covering news, cultural expression, and gender balance among many hopes if the UN intends to come up with multilateral solutions for a “Better Tomorrow”. For the sake of time and space, let me focus on the most pressing needs below.

Technological constraints: Media ownership and control

Lessons drawn from the Arab Spring showed us the way for utilizing social and new media as tools for democratizing societies and enhancing citizen-engagement. Conversely, and throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one expects true, balanced, fair, and actual coverage of news from international and national media outlets; sadly, this did not happen.

On the Canadian front, legitimate questions about the role of publicly funded media to fulfil the right of the public to know have been raised by multiple groups. Of significant importance, an open letter prepared by Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (CJPME) to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) signed by more than 66 non-for-profit and non-governmental organizations decrying the biased coverage of demonstrations, the retaliation against journalists who signed letters to their newsrooms calling for fair news reporting on the Palestinian-Israel conflict, among other unethical practices.

Even the e-audience – particularly pro-Palestinians – have experienced unpreceded technological censorship of their content on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for example). Such media outlets are arguably using algorithms to block users’ shared content – a true crisis for freedom of expression. Interestingly, users created ways around such censorship, as The Washington Post reports, by using coded spelling to confuse the corporate content moderation system of algorithms. For example, “P*les+in1ans” were used instead of “Palestinians” – recently termed “algospeak”. We should legitimately question the current and future corporate technological surveillance of users’ content and how the public can self-produce content freely and uncensored,

Which language and whose right?

In Canada, the English Montreal School Board (Quebec’s largest English-language school board) decided to sue the provincial government as it required them to write all of their communication in French. This is quite interesting for two reasons: first that Canada is characterized by its bilingualism policy – iconic to its history and the Just Society pioneered in the late 1960s by Pierre Trudeau. The second is Bill 96 passed in Quebec in particular that emphasized the promotion of using French and affirming that, “French is the common language of the Québec nation” (2022). Such policies affect immigration numbers in the province as it forces linguistic barriers onto day-to-day life for many Quebec residents whose native language is not French.

Extending it to clothes?!

Yes, you read that quite right. A government can decide what clothes you wear to work, public places and services offered to you. Human Rights Watch explicitly underlined the dark irony of expressing one’s own culture “Quebec’s Ban on Religious Clothing is Chilling: To Be Like Us, You Must Dress Like Us” (2019). In other words, if you wear any of these categories of clothes representing one’s religion, including Muslim headscarves (hijabs), Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, and other symbols of other faiths for example, you will not be able to receive services like healthcare or public transit, etc. A reminder that freedom of dress is a clear reference to the human right to autonomy and an expression of their own personal and cultural identity. Political institutions should support inclusivity and the personal choice to self-represent and communicate oneself to others.

Time for a Brand-New World Communication Order: BNWCO!

We need to reconsider history when we attempt to propose new solutions. In fact, history repeats itself once again. The “happy end” of adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proved to be unsatisfactory, and if we continue to depend on the enactment of mere legislation and laws without fully understanding the role of communication in participatory democracy, we will end up once again behind.

In the upcoming Summit, sincere consideration of the challenges posed by the role of communication in attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals should take a beyond-information scope. It would pinpoint the role of corporate powers (on national and international fronts) in marginalizing opposing views and portraying them as the “other” to exclude their opinions and stances from the public sphere. Similarly, it would focus on understanding the breadth of hate speech and spreading dis- and misinformation online in societies and the impact of such actions on discrimination, especially on minority groups. The role of media in covering news and the recurrence of MacBride Commission complaints from developing countries: the negative stereotypical and sensational coverage of places, people, and ideas to fit into the corporate mode of commercial production of news.

In sum, while there is a large array of possibilities to communicate, current national and international policies do not endorse a full exchange of communication on different levels, from clothes, culture, and food to ideas, opinions, and political stances. All such communication is not only a marker of civil society, but also a demonstration of a democratic and participatory approach to justice and human rights.

References

“Pro-Palestinian creators use secret spellings, code words to evade social media algorithms”. The Washington Post. (20 October 2013). Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/10/20/palestinian-tiktok-instagram-algospeak-israel-hamas/.

Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, 1st Sess, 42nd Leg, Quebec, 2021 (assented to 1 June 2022), SQ 2022, c 14. Available online at: https://www.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/Fichiers_client/lois_et_reglements/LoisAnnuelles/en/2022/2022C14A.PDF.

Quebec’s Ban on Religious Clothing is Chilling: To Be Like Us, You Must Dress Like Us. Human Rights Watch, Women’s Rights Division. (24 June 2019). Available online at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/24/quebecs-ban-religious-clothing-chilling-be-us-you-must-dress-us

United Nations. “Summit of the Future: Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow”. 22-23 September 2024. Available online at: https://www.un.org/en/summit-of-the-future

Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. “Open letter to CBC: Canadians call for fairness, impartiality, and integrity on Palestine” (July 2021). Available online at: https://www.cjpme.org/home

Dr Aliaa Dakroury is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Human Sciences, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada. Her research interest focuses on the historiography of the right to communicate in and outside Canada. Contact: adakrour@uottawa.ca.

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