Communication rights: what are we talking about

Communication, the act of transferring information from one place to another, is an intrinsic aspect of human life. It is of little surprise then, that a debate on communication rights and the right to communicate dates back to the first international codification of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Article 19 of the UDHR codified the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well as the right to seek and impart information, later established in a legally binding form in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

During the 1970s and 1980s, countries of the Global South were very vocal in bringing the right to communicate to the forefront of the political dialogue within the United Nations, especially in matters of media plurality and the western hegemony of media and broadcasting. In 1980, the UNESCO-commissioned Mac Bride report “Many Voices One World” codified extensively the right to communicate.

While the political debate abruptly ended because of Cold War differences, civil society actors became increasingly active in the field of communication rights and the right to communicate, as rights that go beyond the mere communication aspect and include instead matters of media governance, media ownership and control, cultural diversity, linguistic rights, and the right to education, privacy, peaceful assembly, and self-determination.

Communication rights and the right to communicate are closely related, but are not the same thing: the right to communicate requires a legal codification in order to proceed with the implementation, while communication rights rely on the implementation of a series of rights already existing.

Communication rights insist on the creation of a positive environment for an effective cycle of communication, which involves not only producing and creating content, but also listening, responding, being heard, understanding and learning. Though obviously there can be no listening obligation, communication rights optimise the conditions for everybody’s voices to be taken into account.

By seeking to enhance refugees’ communication rights, Refugees Reporting aims at ensuring that refugees voices are represented, heard and respected in and by the media, with a view to contribute to a more balanced debate about an increasingly inflammatory subject and the promotion of a fair media portrayal of refugees.


If you are interested in knowing more, take a look at the resources available on the page of the Centre for Communication Rights.


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