Human rights and communication rights: a necessary alliance

By Tita Aveggio - 2010

As part of its work on communication for social change, since 2007 WACC has supported some 79 projects in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America under its programme "Building and Recognising Communication Rights". The concept of communication rights is a new one and partners and funders frequently ask what they are.

For a long time now many groups and organisations, as well as individuals, have been working on the idea that communication rights are fundamental to the democratisation of society since they "strengthen the capacity of people and communities to use communication and media to pursue their goals in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres. They support key human rights that collectively enhance people’s capacity to communicate in their own general interest and for the common good" (No-Nonsense guide to communication rights ).

In Latin America the concept of communication rights has been widely debated not only by communication scholars and students of communication but also among grassroots groups, professional and popular communicators, communication activists, trade unionists and other civil society groups. As part of this debate Civil Society groups have worked alongside legislators and lawyers to root communication rights within the larger spectrum of human rights and existing media regulations in the region.

Thus, for several years now and for a myriad causes, the region has witnessed an ongoing citizens’ debate around communication rights and the democratization of the media. The debate has led to groundbreaking processes of reviewing the different laws that regulate mass media, in particular electronic media such as radio and television. Organisations such as the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters in Latin America (AMARC-ALC) have led the way and contributed to the debate on communication rights, good practices, and principles to guarantee diversity and pluralism in broadcasting and other audiovisual services, through research, studies and the publication of reports and books. These studies have been presented to inter agency organisations, in particular the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), one of the two bodies in the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Headquartered in Washington DC, the IACHR is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) and during its 140 sessions in October 2010, the organization conceded two working sessions and three audiences to AMARC-ALC. The working sessions were used to analyse broadcasting legislation in Chile and Paraguay while the two first audiences looked at freedom of expression in Honduras and Mexico. The third and last audience saw the presentation of the Principles for guaranteeing diversity and pluralism in broadcasting and audiovisual communication services.

As a result of this presentation, the Inter American body has agreed to take the principles into account for the next yearly report of the Commission. The principles will be particularly important as the region travels on the road to digital transition and they will be an opportunity to help guarantee pluralism and diversity in commercial, public and community broadcasting.

The 40 principles include those already presented to the IACHR in October 2008, which were the result of research into the legislation in eight countries. The results of that first research were published the following year see here.

The 40 principles are an attempt to serve as a guide for setting up broadcasting practices, legislation and norms which are compatible with the Inter American Convention in Human Rights in matters of regulation of licenses and franchises. It is expected that this harmonization will be a step toward guarantee diversity and pluralism in the administration of the radio spectrum in the Latin American region. Before being presented to the IACHR the 40 principles were launched at an event in Washington D.C. organised by AMARC the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and WOLA, the Washington Office on Latin America.

By Tita Aveggio| 2010
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Communication rights enable all people everywhere to express themselves individually and collectively by all means of communication. They are vital to full participation in society and are, therefore, universal human rights belonging to every man, woman, and child.


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