Creating public communication spaces that are open, accessible, comfortable, and sociable
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Creating public communication spaces that are open, accessible, comfortable, and sociable

Working Group

An international working group prepared a paper for the symposium on “Communication for Social Justice in the Digital Age”, which took place in Berlin and online September 13-15, 2021. It set out an understanding of public space today, outlined what issues are at stake, and proposed measures aimed at restoring openness and accountability.

The Working Group shared a definition and description of the spaces where people communicate their lives, needs, and dreams as human beings:

“Democratic public communication spaces are spaces for considered dialogue – both analogue and digital – that would explicitly strengthen excluded voices; guarantee citizens the right to own and control their data, information and knowledge, free from commercial, state or other co-option; and contribute to, uphold and validate social justice, communication rights and the common good.”

In these spaces, citizens would have equal access to data, information, knowledge and opportunities for exploring and understanding expert insights. This would be based on minimum guaranteed access to cost-free or affordable media, information and literacy training (formal and informal); analogue, digital, and online systems; software and hardware; connectivity, bandwidth and networks; and sustainable energy sources for their communication technology.

The Working Group condensed its most urgent recommendations into the following, trusting that they will support democratic public communication spaces to thrive, be they on- or offline. Bearing in mind the above definition of public space, these recommendations can assist in creating spaces that are open, accessible, comfortable, and sociable. Activities can be engaged in safely and within the users’ control, and with luck, users can participate in a space whose governance is transparent, accountable, and sovereign to the users.

Ethical and theoretical

* Ensure justice, equity, equality: content, languages, cultures, forms, channels, platforms, devices.

* Guarantee affordable access to autonomous, local, democratically controlled media production and dissemination.

* Prioritise voices/spaces of those who have traditionally been excluded, isolated or neglected in media, communication and political ecosystems.

Political

* Create civil and faith-based communities of resistance to the neoliberal, consumerist ideology which enables current media ecosystems to thrive.

* Build widespread, global coalitions of interest – transparent, participatory, collaborative – to expand the public sphere, between digital and analogue industries, civil society and inter/governmental bodies.

Educational

* Build awareness of the complex nature – both positive and negative – of the digital “public” sphere and digital “public” spaces.

* Develop communication skills: Dialogue, conversation, negotiation, listening, openness to contrary opinions.

* Ensure availability of low-cost or cost-free media, information and digital literacy training.

Technical

* Ensure meaningful access to affordable, quality devices, technology, systems and networks.

* Normalise open, interoperable data, software, hardware, platforms and standards.

* Support and encourage open source, creative commons and culturally appropriate, shared ownership of information and knowledge.

Source: “In what ways has the digital era changed the notion of public space?”. In Media Development 1/2022.

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