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Towards a Global Framework for Democratic Media


04 / 1996

The worldwide development of an increasingly complex and interconnected media system has highlighted the need to begin thinking about a new global framework for media legislation and regulation. At the same time, by underscoring the importance of local media initiatives, it points to the need to maintain and enhance existing national policy frameworks.

How can these two, apparently contradictory, thrusts be brought together in the interest of pursuing democratic goals for media? The key is to recognise the importance of parallel intervention at a multiplicity of levels, in a wide range of fora. Daunting as this may seem, it is the only way to ensure that the orientation of media systems remains responsive to public needs.

Locally- Community-based institutions must continue to build independent production and distribution structures, to link up with like-minded organizations in regional and global networks, and maintain a presence in national policy debates. For the foreseeable future, media policy will continue to be made at the national level, and local groups will have to struggle to be heard in these debates. They can not afford to remain on the sidelines. The stakes include, among others, access to public funding, the extent of contribution of private enterprise-based services to projects conceived and designed for the public good, and recognition of the place of local and community services in national media systems.

Nationally-Advocacy groups representing different segments of the population (various constellations of users, cultural communities, interest groups)will have to demand access - and, when they get it, occupy a responsible position - in the overall public policy design of national media systems. Institutional autonomy of media from state and market imperatives needs to be guaranteed constitutionally. Electronic media need to be recognized as a social resource, with consequent policy measures to ensure a public service role for all undertakings, including those of the commercial sector. Established conventional public broadcasting institutions, where they exist, need not only a reiteration of government commitment to financial support, but also to undergo democratization of structures of accountability and participation.

Internationally- We need worldwide recognition of the centrality of media for social and cultural development. The recent Report of UNESCO’s World Commission on Culture and Development takes a step in this direction, and makes a number of specific proposals worth pursuing. In international fora, diplomatic initiatives should emphasize the importance of socialization and democratization of media in countries where these are subjected to various political and economic tyrannies. Debate on the emerging new global information infrastructure needs to be refocused to emphasize the necessity that the GII assume an unequivocally public character. Specifically, this means launching a debate on the need to create new global regulatory mechanisms for media. A substantial struggle is in the cards on this question, but it is one that will have to be waged.

The international democratic media community needs to lobby for a permanent forum for developing global policy with respect to the emerging new media technologies. Transnational free-enterprise media will need to be countered with global public service media. The structural basis of such institutions is not immediately evident, given that these have traditionally operated exclusively at the national level. Hence, all the more important that such questions be discussed in democratic, multilateral fora. The role of existing global bodies such as UNESCO and the ITU is crucial to this, but these will have to be opened up to include participation by a broader range of actors than the present assortment of member states. New, democratic, institutional forms will need to be developed in order for media to fulfil their potential as the central institutions of an emerging global public sphere.

New credence will have to be given to the idea that the global media environment, from the conventional airwaves to outer space, is a public resource, to be organized, managed and regulated in the global public interest. This implies winning recognition of the legitimacy of public intervention on a global scale. Use of the air is presently limited to those with the political and economic means to access it. Broadening access will require appropriate transnational regulatory mechanisms, as well as mechanisms for a more equitable distribution of global commercial benefits. There is a need for the international appropriation of some air and space for the distribution outside the country of origin of viable creative products that currently have no access to the new global agora that figures so prominently in utopian discourse on the new information technologies.

The convergence of communication technologies requires a parallel convergence in programs and policies. This is going to require the invention of new models, new concepts and a general new way of thinking about communication. For example, the notion of "access" has traditionally meant different things in broadcasting and in telecommunication. In the broadcasting model, emphasis is placed on the active receiver, on free choice, and access refers to the entire range of product on offer. In the telecommunication model, emphasis is on the sender, on the capacity to get one’s messages out, and access refers to the means of communication. In order for the new media environment to play a meaningful role in democratization, public policy will need to promote a new hybrid model of communication, which combines the social and cultural objectives of both broadcasting and telecommunication, and provides new mechanisms - drawn from both traditional models - aimed at maximizing equitable access to services and the means of communication for both senders and receivers.

The central issue is still who will get to use the full range of local, national and global media to receive and disseminate messages, and on what basis. Resolution of this issue will depend on a different kind of access: to the processes and points of decision-making that will determine the framework in which media are going to develop, that is to say, access to the policy framework of the new global media system.

Marc Raboy is a Professor at the:

Department of Communication,

Arts and Sciences Faculty,

University of Montreal,

Box 6128, succursale A,

Montreal, Quebec

H3C 3J7 Canada

Tel.: (1 514)343 7171

Fax: (1 514)343 2298


Palabras claves

comunicación, derecho



Artículos y dossiers

Videazimut, DESIGNING A LEGAL FRAMEWORK in. Clips, 1996 (Canada), 10

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