Media Independence and Global Governance
Media Co-ordinator, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Chairman IPDC/UNESCO
"Information and communication cannot be left completely to the market forces, especially if we want them to support good global governance. But we would act against the most fundamental rules of good governance if we would try to force media back into government or party control where they try already to serve the society at large. Only free and independent media can fully adopt this role and we should support them in being carriers of good global governance,'' says Keune. Following is a slightly abridged version of his opening remarks at the IPS/FES conference on May 15, 1998.
Being an observer for many years now and some time partisan in the debates on the role of information and communication, I would like to add some few remarks about the North-South dimension of the topic at issue. We all learned a lot from these controversial disputes on a new international information order and the debate may have contributed to more awareness and to some change.
But to a large degree the fights and quarrels were fruitless, useless and bitter wherever they took place. At the UN General Assembly, the UNESCO General Conference or above all at the IPDC Council of UNESCO which I now have the honour to chair. As we know today, these debates had to be useless and had to be fruitless especially for one major reason. There was no consensus on at least the broad outlines of what we call today global governance. There was no basic understanding as to how civil societies should function and which rules should govern the regional and international relationship between them. This is why the new order debate had to fail.
Today however, we are in a much better position as far as global governance is concerned but we are also in a process of making efforts to destroy again what was achieved over the last decade or so when it comes to information and communication.
Let me briefly explain what I mean by this. For me it was a major event when the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a political resolution to mark the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1996, a resolution which solemnly confirmed the universality of human rights. Some may have voted for it with tongue-in-cheek, some may have done so only after a paragraph on different regional priorities was introduced. However, the declaration is there and it provides the most important common ground for good global governance.
When looking around elsewhere, you find similar developments in other global bodies. There is a basic understanding of labour rights at the ILO. There is a consensus now at UNESCO IPDC as to what is meant by free and independent media. The WTO has achieved to establish ground rules in global trade and strives for similar ones in global services. There is a basic understanding at UNFPA as to how refugees are to be treated anywhere in the world. Several other examples along these lines could be quoted.
However to make human rights and labour rights and many other elements of good global governance a permanent part of the world's "game rules", information and communication are indispensable carriers and actors.
Global news agencies such as IPS, alternative satellite systems like VTV can be counted among these carriers, but also many national quality papers, public service broadcasting systems and also bona fide commercial companies can be counted among them.
In addition, there is a host of new actors, especially in developing countries, which can strengthen the voice of good governance. I mean small community basic rural radios that are mushrooming in Latin America and in Africa at least. New technologies, above all e-mail and web access, have given them a role that reaches far beyond their local functions and we should be well aware of this new dimension of small-scale basic radios.
Trevor Gordon-Somers of UNDP has given the following wonderful and simple definition of "sound governance" at the national level, but I think we can also borrow it for our topic the global aspect. I quote: "Sound government is therefore participatory, transparent, accountable, effective, equitable and promotes the rule of law." None of those criteria can be fulfilled, both at the national or global level, without free and interactive systems for information and communication.
Globalization and above all commercialisation increasingly endanger these systems or make them function in a different and unwelcome direction. An increase from five to fifty or soon 500 channels does not automatically strengthen the voice of good governance. And especially this is the case if and when the right messages are not to be spread. Even in information rich societies such as Germany pay tv and commercialisation of information could eventually narrow down access to a wide spectrum of news and programmes that are so far more or less freely accessible. There was for Germans a writing on the wall a few months ago when the supreme court in this country ruled that even the ninety seconds TV summary on a football match - Germany's favourite sport - should no longer be free but should carry a price tack for any station to use it.
As a result, some less football reporting might eventually be acceptable - although this is difficult for Germans to bear especially after 200 hours of transmission time promised for us from the world cup in France. But in other areas, the trend towards new division between information rich and information poor can be more dangerous.
I therefore suggest that we do not only talk today about information and communication for global governance but that we also reverse the topic and deal with global governance for information and communication. If we do so, it becomes soon evident that a sufficiently large number of media can only then be carriers of good governance messages if they themselves enjoy conditions such as free access to sources, transparency, equity and freedom of the editorial process.
In many countries around the world and for many media this is not or not yet the case. Let us join our efforts to change this to the better. This is why institutions such as IPDC, German and international foundations and donor agencies in industrialised countries must continue to be active in media development in the South and in the East.
The new communication technologies such as world wide web, digital satellite broadcasting, e-mail or ISDN seem to be by their own nature more apt for global governance messages and for more democratic participation. They offer more choices to more people in more parts of the world and they do so at lower prices if we want this to happen.
Again, total commercialisation could be counterproductive and should not be allowed to take over all channels at all times and for all people. To find a good mix which takes care of economic as well as participatory viewpoints, is a task the international community has to take up.
Information and communication cannot be left completely to the market forces, especially if we want them to support good global governance. But we would act against the most fundamental rules of good governance if we would try to force media back into government or party control where they try already to serve the society at large. Only free and independent media can fully adopt this role and we should support them in being carriers of good global governance.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Dezember 1998