Voices 21

A Global Movement for People's Voices in
Media and Communication in the 21st Century


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SUMMARY This proposal calls for civil society and NGOs to form an international alliance to address concerns and to work jointly on matters around media and communication. We believe a new social movement in this field is needed, and is ready to act internationally.

Uniting civil society organisations that today use media and communication networks in their work for social change is:

An awareness of the growing importance of the mass media and communication networks for the aims they are trying to achieve;
A concern about current trends in the field of information and communication toward concentration of ownership and control into fewer hands;
A concern that state censorship is giving way only to more subtle censorship, through subjection to commercial exigencies and maximising shareholder gain;
An awareness of the lack of public influence on these trends, in both developed and developing countries, in democracies and under dictatorships.

The central focus of the movement would be to tackle problems and find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time: To ensure that the voices and concerns of ordinary people around the world are no longer excluded!

A two-fold approach is required.

First, strategic level cooperation amongst NGOs must build common agendas, joint funding proposals and exchange and cooperation mechanisms. Gathering, analysing and dissemination of information will be a key aspect of this. Second, concrete cooperation could begin through joint activities of the people and organisations participating in the movement, under the following suggested themes:

Access and Accessibility
Right to communicate
Diversity of expression
Security and Privacy
Cultural environment

Concrete targets and actions around these themes are suggested. This proposal will be spread widely among media and communication organisations, in order to initiate discussion on the most effective means to collaborate.

                                           


 

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Voices 21  

A Global Movement for People's Voices in
Media and Communication in the 21st Century


FULL STATEMENT This is a call to build a Global Movement on Media and Communication for the 21st Century. At its core is the demand that the voices of ordinary people around the world are no longer excluded from media and communication.

It is drafted, and continues to be refined, by a group of concerned media and communication practitioners, academics and NGOs, coming together under the banner of Voices 21. It is associated with the People’s Communication Charter, a civil society initiative that promotes the rights of people in media and communication and which in the last few years has been endorsed by many thousands of organisations and individuals; and has close links with a number of other current initiatives.

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1. A Common Concern

NGOs all over the world have long worked in the field of media and communication; creating and supporting community radio and access TV networks, bringing the Internet to civil society, using video for local development, attempting to influence media and communication policy, and through a variety of other means. Others have grown expert in the use of media and communication to pursue their development and empowerment strategies, whether through electronic networking, effective media influencing or media-based educational campaigns.

Increasingly, however, concerns are being expressed regarding the major trends in global media. While technological progress, and political and regulatory changes, can potentially benefit many of those in need, the scales seem increasingly tipped in favour of the already powerful. There is genuine and growing concern that global trends in media and communication are leading us into uncharted territory, and that those at the helm have no particular interest in the needs of the majority of the world’s people.

Civil society organisations, in general, share the following:

An awareness of the growing importance of the mass media and communication networks for the aims they are trying to achieve;
A concern about current trends in the field of information and communication toward concentration of ownership and control into fewer hands;
A concern that state censorship is giving way only to more subtle censorship, through subjection to commercial exigencies and maximising shareholder gain;
An awareness of the lack of public influence on these trends, in both developed and developing countries, in democracies and under dictatorships.

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2. An Emerging Movement

For some years now, NGOs such as AMARC, Vidéazimut, APC and WACC have been building international organisations, to promote the interests of their members and more generally to focus on the media needs of civil society. Others, such as the Platform for Democratic Communication, People’s Communication Charter, MacBride Round Table and Cultural Environment Movement, are concerned from the outset with democratisation of the media domain, spreading the message sometimes to thousands of people and their organisations.

More recently, these have embarked on what is in effect a process of global mobilisation, seeking common ground, joining forces around specific issues, and developing proposals for cooperation. Alongside and supporting this have been numerous international events, in every region of the world and organised by a great variety of organisations and coalitions, where civil society voices are calling for a fundamental review of the media and communication domain, including global governance structures.

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3. The Perceived Threats

The potential impact of current trends, especially given the absence of significant public influence upon them, are enormous, with ramifications spreading into the ordinary lives of people everywhere. Fears can be summarised as follows:

A threat to Media Diversity in Form and Content:

‘Dumbing-down’ of news and educational programming forms, with ‘infotainment’ and ‘edutainment’
Reduction of real content diversity, displaced by multiplication of homogenised programming

A threat to Public Understanding and the Democratic Process:

Undue influence of commercial imperatives on news, current affairs and educational content
‘Media Moguls’ controlling the political slant of their publications, and directly biasing the information available
Growing global electronic surveillance, by government and private interests

A threat to Global Equity of Access and Economic Development:

Growing disparity of access to information and communication technologies and applications globally, between urban and rural, and between groups in society
A proliferation of advertising globally, perpetually delivering distorted messages of lifestyle expectations
The imposition of a single dominant set of cultural values, promoting values that implicitly and explicitly advocate commercial over human relationships

A threat to Cultural and Social Forms:

The subjection of sport and all forms of entertainment to purely commercially driven criteria
Domination of a single language in the new media content, and consequent loss of linguistic diversity
Ubiquity of advertising, interrupting and deforming other social and cultural information, visually and aurally

A considerable body of academic research, and the real experience of numerous NGOs, confirm that these threats are real, and merit the urgent attention of international organisations, governments, and by organisations everywhere that claim concern for our future. It is imperative that people, and civil society, everywhere begin to understand the nature and dynamics of these changes, and mobilise the means by which democratic accountability can be introduced.

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4. Purpose of the Movement

The central focus of the movement would be to tackle problems and find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time: To ensure that the voices and concerns of ordinary people around the world are no longer excluded! Despite all the solemn declarations about information societies and communication revolutions, most of the world's voices are not heard. In today's reality most people have neither the tools and skills to participate in social communication, nor a say in communication politics. The preamble of the People's Communication Charter goes: "All people are entitled to participate in communication and in making decisions about communication within and between societies". In spite of all the developments and innovations in the field of information and communication, this standard is far from being realised.

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5. What to Do

We believe that a two-pronged approach is needed, one at the level of strategy development, the other at the level of cooperative action. These two are complementary, and can proceed any distance only by joining together hand in hand.

On the one hand, building a movement will require planning, strategic thinking, resources and the space to explore common ground and build strategies. On the other, organisations committed to the democratisation can, under a common banner, begin to plan and implement cooperation on practical activities that will help build the movement and tackle the issues.

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Building A Strategy Together

Building a movement in which all can feel part of and play a role, but yet which is coherent and focused, takes time and effort. There is also a major information and educational challenge, to ensure civil society is adequately informed on local to global trends, and opportunities to influence agendas. Voices 21 seeks only to build bridges, not to displace existing initiatives and organisations which have carried the issue to the brink of a movement.

Voices 21 began as a proposal to initiate a World Congress or Summit on media and communication. This intention remains as a future milestone in cooperation. In the meantime, however, as steps towards building a movement, we are encouraging participation in the following range of activities.

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Activities within the movement

Networking and concrete cooperation could, for example, begin around five campaigns, described below by Theme, Concerns, Targets and Actions.

Theme 1: Access and Accessibility.

Concern:

Participation in social communication presupposes access: To big media, to community media, to computer networks, to information sources and to other tools. However, physical access is right now for many neither sufficient nor affordable. Most people in the world are denied access to such basic tools as a telephone. As a result, a social gap grows between those who can afford access to information and those who will be excluded. This must be changed.

Targets:

International donor institutions that demonstrate in their policy and practice an enormous gap between words and actions: There is much rhetoric about the right to communicate, but totally inadequate supportive funding and support.
The international trade negotiators, particularly at the WTO, who enact policies that are not conducive to universal access and accessibility of communication infrastructures and information networks.

Action:

Collaborate on building media and communication access where needed; for example telecentres, low-cost radiowires.
Use modern techniques where local infrastructure doesn't exist, such as solar energy, satellite and radio communications.
Find joint ways to finance access-building work.
Lobby meetings of the WTO and other multilateral institutions.

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Theme 2: Right to communicate.

Concern:

Around the world, old and new forms of state and commercial censorship are rampant; they threaten not only the independence of conventional mass media, but also the right to communicate through new channels like the Internet. Universal access to media and networks means little in the absence of adequate public space where information, opinions and ideas can be freely exchanged and debated. State censorship and providers' self-censoring of social debate, copyright rules, laws on business defamation, are all complex matters where rules need to be defined not to hinder, but to support, political debate and exchange on socially important matters.

Targets:

Governments and cultural industries, broadcasters and Internet providers.
The emerging international regime for the protection of Intellectual Property Rights at fora such as the WIPO and the WTO. The European Union and Internet providers worldwide.

Action:

Support and facilitate distribution of censored voices and material.
Build security systems for civil society organisations.
Provide cross-media services for international and simultaneous radio, TV and Internet broadcasting.
Provide support to various anti-censorship campaigns around the world.
Widely publicise examples of commercial censorship.
Lobby forthcoming meetings of WTO, WIPO, and the EU Commission.

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Theme 3: Diversity of expression

Concern:

The commercialisation of media and concentration of media ownership erode the public sphere and fail to provide for cultural and information needs, including the plurality of opinions and the diversity of cultural expressions and languages necessary for democracy. This occurs not only in the conventional media business, but is also beginning to affect the Internet.

Targets:

WTO
European Commission
Mergers & Acquisitions Commissions in different countries

Action:

Build independent media and communication channels for civil society.
Create a civil society media economy to make non-profit media channels sustainable.
Develop concrete proposals for anti-cartel regulation.
Mobilise local consumer actions against media mergers.
Joint promotions of alternatives where they exist.

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Theme 4: Security and Privacy

Concern:

Electronic communications through such media as the Internet have become targets for the surveillance by governments without public debate on the consequences for communication on social matters. Across the world, 24 hour ubiquitous electronic surveillance is expanding (for example through the Echelon programme of the US National Security Agency), including employee monitoring, and widespread commercial data-mining. Internet Service Providers are made liable for contents they carry, and the bigger ones have begun collaborating with the security police. This forces forms of self censorship upon the ISPs, making the Internet an unsafe place for those living under dictatorships or political oppression. This must be changed.

Targets:

ILO, OECD, European Commission/Parliament, Governments,
Internet Service Providers and their networks.

Action:

Build secure systems for social movements and defend them together when threatened.
Develop legislative proposals.
Design protective measures against privacy intrusion.
Mirror and broadcast material unfairly threatened.

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Theme 5: Cultural environment

Concern:

The global media foster a culture of violence, discrimination, exclusion, and consumerism. Most public interest NGOs strive toward the creation of a culture of peace, solidarity, and environmental awareness.

Targets:

The global media industry, CEOs of TNCs like Time-Warner/CNN.
Bertelsmann, Disney/ABC, News Corporation (Murdoch), Governments and Parliaments, and Media Consumers.

Action:

Educational campaigns to foster critical media awareness.
Children's editions of documents like the People's Communication Charter.
Create media and communication channels which offer positive alternatives.
Encourage mainstream media to offer positive alternatives.
Consumer media boycott/advertiser boycott.
Arrange and participate in tribunals and hearings.
Media monitoring.

To begin mobilisation across these five themes, Voices 21 hopes to shortly launch a Debate and Discussion List. In addition, we are seeking to generate joint proposals for funding, to foundations, agencies and others, to further both strategy development and concrete activities, which could include:

preparation of educational resources around the issues discussed in this document;
creation of a ‘Virtual Centre for Media and Communication Democracy’, conceived as a central repository for information and analysis and a hub for civil society networking;
a ‘Global Media Monitoring Project’;
an ‘International Ombuds Office on Media and Communication’.

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6. Interim Organising Group

The following comprise the Interim Organising Group for this evolving proposal. The associated proposal for a World Congress on Media and Communication has been endorsed widely, including at the International Forum on Communication and Citizenship in October 1998 in San Salvador, the MacBride Round table in Amman in November 1998, and the Vidéazimut Congress in Cape Town in October 1998. It has also been endorsed by numerous civil society organisations.

The Organising Group is in the process of expanding to ensure better regional and gender representation, and broader civil society participation.

  • Alain Ambrosi, Vidéazimut, Canada. 
  • Michael Eisenmenger, Deep Dish TV, USA. 
  • George Gerbner, Cultural Environment Movement, USA. 
  • Bruce Girard, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. 
  • Cees Hamelink, People’s Communication Charter, The Netherlands. 
  • Wolfgang Kleinwaechter, MacBride Roundtable, Denmark. 
  • Cilla Lundstroem, Association for Progressive Communication, Sweden. 
  • Robert McChesney, University of Wisconsin, USA. 
  • Kaarle Nordenstreng, University of Tampere, Finland. 
  • Seán Ó Siochrú, Platform for Democratic Communication, Ireland. 
  • Marc Raboy, University of Montreal, Canada. 
  • Pradip Thomas, World Association for Christian Communication, UK. 
  • Karen Thorne, Vidéazimut, South Africa. 
  • Rick Vincent, MacBride Roundtable, USA. 
  • Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki, EcoNews Africa, Kenya. 

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