Riding the Tide or Swimming against the Current?
04 / 1996
"As a first step, and within a market context, the Commission
suggests that the time may have come for commercial regional or
international satellite radio and television interests which now
use the global commons free of charge to contribute to the
financing of a more plural media system."
So says UNESCO’s World Commission on Culture and Development in its report entitled Our Creative Diversity. Among the several subjects in the Commission’s report, one of the ten chapters and two of the ten points in the recommendations for an international action agenda are devoted to the media. Presented to UNESCO last November, the report is the result of two years of work. Its conclusions about the media are certainly worthy of more attention and publicity than they seem to have received thus far.
Recognizing Community Media - The report highlights the need for diversity and the reflection of the local context. It says, "This is where community radio and television come into the picture. Whenever a modicum of funding, political commitment and infrastructure is being made available, community media complement public and commercial broadcasting. They have become an important fora of expression in the last two decades." It goes on to say, "The public media space, as seen through the tradition of media regulation and public service radio and television broadcasting institutions or systems, is well-established in most countries. Alternative educational and community media, whether local newspapers in Malaysia or community broadcasting in Latin America, help fill out this public space." In its recommendations for an international agenda, the Commission takes an even stronger stand: "Independent, appropriately funded public service as well as community broadcasting institutions are essential to the functioning of the media in a democratic society." To those who are working towards legal recognition of a community broadcasting sector within their country’s legislative framework, these words should be of some value, coming as they do from such an eminent international source. This moral support could be used within nations to help mobilize the modicum of funding, political commitment and infrastructure that is needed for the blossoming of community media in the many places where it is lacking.
Encouraging Diversity - The Commission’s views and recommendations on the media involve a complex interplay between the virtues of competition, diversity, efficiency and equity. There is something here to offend everyone. Those who still believe in state control of thes placed on competition. Those who are the international corporate winners of the global media competition game will look with extreme displeasure on talk of equity and diversity. And those who are less endowed with economic resources will see the idea that competition encourages diversity as a cruel joke. The Commission places a high value on diversity in the media, both within national borders and internationally. It prescribes competition as a way of encouraging diversity. Having done so, it then admits that the market model may not necessarily lead to the public good: The Commission argues that competition is desirable, but that the market model may not itself guarantee competition: ". . .there is nothing in the nature of laissez-faire that either establishes or maintains competition, but the virtue of markets depends on the existence of competition." Indeed, it recognizes that ". . .deregulation, or the relaxation of government controls of the operation of markets, which is one of the means used to promote competition, may also promote concentration of ownership." And concentration of ownership may not be compatible with diversity or with the public good. How to have your competition
and your diversity too?
Global Media Regulation? - The Commission suggests an answer in the form of a question. What about some form of global regulation to promote competition? Taking as its model independent agencies within some nations that oversee telecommunications and broadcasting, the Commission asks ". . .whether the world should not consider a co-ordinated regulatory approach, a possible international competition policy." It continues with the following suggestion: "Can the nationally-accepted role of public and alternative media as equalizers be applied internationally?" Some very specific measures are proposed by which international public and alternative media might be financed. Just as some national governments have defined the frequency spectrum used for broadcasting within their national territory as public property and therefore have given themselves the right to regulate its use for the public good, the Commission describes the radio frequency spectrum of satellite orbital slots "...as part of the global commons, a collective asset that belongs to all humankind." Those who use the global media commons should be subject to a global obligation in return for the private benefit they obtain. The Commission suggests an international tax on private use of the global commons that could be used to support alternative regional and global services and programming, allowing the creation of a plural international media system based on both private and public media space.
The action recommendations for the international agenda, in addition to the above, call for the adoption of international policies to encourage competition to ensure that market activities are consistent with the public interest and to promote access and diversity of expression so that many voices will be heard. The Commission’s recommendations reflect the increasing interest in some quarters in the idea of global governance as a logical and necessary response to the increasing globalization of economic activity and power and the consequent erosion of effective national sovereignty.
So far, there are many people in today’s world working for more democratic media both locally and internationally who, though they may not agree with everything in it, will find something in the report deserving of wider public debate.
Translated into French and Spanish.
For a copy of the report, contact UNESCO.
Lavinia Mohr is the Secretary General of Videazimut.
Artigos e dossiês
Videazimut, Designing a Legal Framework in. Clips, 1996 (Canada), 10
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