A right to communicate as an open work

By William F. Birdsall - 2006

When Jean d’Arcy identified the need for a right to communicate (RTC) in the late 1960s, it immediately struck a chord among those attempting to link human rights with recent developments in communications technology, in particular, satellite communications (d’Arcy, 1969). However, by the early 1980s, efforts within UNESCO to formulate a RTC collapsed. Since then individuals and organizations have attempted to keep the concept alive but its acceptance has been constrained by the historical baggage of the 1970s and 80s and the underlying problem of defining such a right.

The debate on human rights, as Alan McKenna relates, has been a discourse surrounding philosophical, legal, and political issues (McKenna 2005: 37). This characterization certainly applies to the extended philosophical and legal debate over a RTC, a debate that focuses on finding a definition embracing both universality and legalistic precision. However, this philosophical-legal approach to defining a RTC is at an impasse that persists to this day (Kuhlen, 2004).

As an alternative to the unproductive philosophical-legal approach that seeks a philosophically universal, legalistic definition, I propose the adoption of a cultural-rhetorical strategy embracing a vision of a RTC that encompasses cultural diversity and ambiguity in meaning. I will argue early proponents of a RTC favoured respect for cultural diversity and ambiguity in the conceptualization of a RTC over a legalistic formulation. However, as I will show, under the formal auspices of UNESCO, consideration of a RTC took a philosophical-legal route, resulting ultimately in the current deadlock between advocates and opponents of a RTC.

Media Development Vol. LIII 1/2006, 41-46

By William F. Birdsall| 2006
Categories:  Concepts


Communication rights enable all people everywhere to express themselves individually and collectively by all means of communication. They are vital to full participation in society and are, therefore, universal human rights belonging to every man, woman, and child.


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