Communication Rights

What are communication rights?

Communication is recognised as an essential human need and, therefore, as a basic human right. Without it, no individual or community can exist, or prosper.

Communication rights support key human rights that collectively enhance people’s capacity to communicate in their own general interest and for the common good.

They go beyond mere freedom of opinion and expression. They include areas such as democratic media governance, participation in one’s own culture, linguistic rights, rights to enjoy the fruits of human creativity, to education, privacy, peaceful assembly, and self-determination.

Click here to download the World Association for Christian Communication’s full No-Nonsense Guide to Communication Rights.

Short history

The concept of the right to communicate began in 1969 with Jean D’Arcy, a Director of the United Nations Radio and Visual Services Division. He recognized that the communication rights relating to freedom of expression embodied in the U. N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted in 1948 would need to be re-examined in the context of global, interactive communication between individuals and communities. He called for the need for the recognition of a human right to communicate that would encompass earlier established rights. His call was taken up by academics, policy experts, public servants, and non-governmental and civil society organisations that made up the Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) Campaign.

The need for communication rights was further elaborated by the MacBride Report, entitled Many Voices, One World: Towards a New More Just and Efficient World Information and Communication Order. The said report studied the problem of media concentration, the flow of news, and “cultural imperialism,” and articulated a general ‘right to communicate’. However, the debate among governments about communication rights was not pursued by UNESCO. The MacBride Report became unavailable until the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) sponsored its republication in 1988.

The Philippine context

In the Philippines, communication rights are barely included in the discourse of human rights advocacy. However, there are grassroots and people’s organizations that value development communication and media work in their various advocacies. Most media organizations in the Philippines focus on developing skills or protecting the rights of professional journalists; few are actually concerned with work directly related to marginalized communities’ needs to exercise communication rights.

In the Philippines, the media is controlled by a few, big conglomerates in the capital cities; meanwhile, provincial media is usually owned by local politicians and used as a tool for patronage politics. Thus, no real media freedom exists. Even with the advent of internet technologies that have made it easier and more cost-effective to publish and broadcast, majority of Filipino communities, especially in the countryside, still do not have internet access. The discourse on current issues that are relevant to the majority excludes the same majority, with officials and institutions in power being engaged mostly by media personalities motivated mostly by profit-driven news values and not the development needs of the people.

The Philippine educational system also does not encourage the effective exercise of communication rights. With lack of government support for basic education and tertiary education mostly privatized, many Filipinos are not able to finish schooling and acquire the necessary communication skills for engagement and public discourse. With the recent move by the Commission on Higher Education to remove Filipino-language courses in universities, the communication gap between marginalized communities and the educated elite threatens to widen.

Many steps need to be taken for all Filipino communities, especially the marginalized, to be able to enjoy communication rights in its fullest sense. Primary among these is greater public awareness of communication as a right, a right with many aspects that need to be asserted, amidst widespread poverty, inequality, and social injustice.

The following are just some of the aspects included in communication rights:

peaceful assembly

education

media governance

culture

linguistic rights

history