The New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) is exhausted and the 'free flow of information' doctrine has been brought back to life, despite persistent inequalities in global communication and the failure to significantly democratize the international communications system. This article maps the rise, fall and resuscitation of the free flow of information doctrine. It also presents evidence illustrating that people's access to basic communications technologies and services has increased significantly, although persistent gaps remain and new axes of inequality are emerging. The article also illustrates how NAFTA and the WTO agreements covering telecoms and computer services facilitate efforts to realize the economic value of information by shielding a range of new technologies and services from the reach of telecommunications policies and expanding the free flow of information doctrine.
Based on distinctions between the technical and communicative dimensions of democracy, it argues that both agreements, and the history of NWICO and the `free flow' debates in general, envision and construct a transnational politics of limited democracy. The idea of 'communicative democracy' is offered as a standpoint from which to critique these developments and as a normative basis for policy analysis.
Media Culture Society, April 1997 vol. 19 no. 2 219-246