The Right to Communicate: Past Mistakes and Future Possibilities by Deborah Hicks

The Right to Communicate: Past Mistakes and Future Possibilities
Deborah Hicks

The right to communicate is a difficult concept to define. The most concise definition is provided by Pomorski (2002): the right to “exchange information relating to a commonly experienced world.” This article explores the history and development of the right to communicate as a Third generation human right and the failed past attempts to translate it into national and international policy. In addition, alternative policy paths for advocate of the right to communicate will be explored and suggestions for concrete activities will be made.
Solidarity rights
The right to communicate
Opposition to the right to communicate
National or international implementation?
Policy development
Future policy paths


Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

                                      - Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Originally written in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) set out to articulate the basic human rights for all people. However, in 1969 Jean D’Arcy wrote that “the time will come when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will have to encompass a more extensive right than man’s right to information. … This is the right of man to communicate” (D’Arcy as quoted by Fisher, 2002, ¶ 1). Since 1969 the world has struggled with how to define, translate into policy, and implement D’Arcy’s right to communicate. This paper explores the history of the right to communicate and the attempts to translate it into policy, both on an international stage and in a Canadian context. Alternative policy paths for advocates for the right to communicate will also be examined and suggestions for concrete actions will be made.

Solidarity rights

The right to communicate is what is known as a third generation, solidarity, or collective human right. First generation rights are civil and political rights, such as the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. Such first generation rights are embodied in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the American Constitution. They deal with liberty and serve to protect individuals from the state. They are negative rights, meaning that an individual has the right not to be subject to another person’s or group’s actions. In other words, negative rights forbid certain actions. Second generation rights are social, economic, and cultural rights. They include the right to education, health care, and standard of living and can be found in the UDHR. Unlike negative first generation rights, second generation positive rights provide individuals with something through the actions of another person or group (Fredman, 2006). According to the UNESCO Report on Human Rights, Human Needs and the Establishment of a New International Economic Order, there is an underlying notion of conflict for first and second generation rights “in that clashes of interest between individuals and groups may be intimately associated with violations of rights” (UNESCO in Hassan, 1983, p. 57). In contrast, third generation rights can only be achieved through communal efforts. They link human needs and rights to a global stage and have the notion of solidarity as their basis. Or, as Birdsall, McIver, and Rasmussen state:

These collective rights differ from earlier generations in that they tend to arise out of global concerns, embody both individual and group rights, are even stronger positive rights than the earlier social and economic rights – often requiring multi-state action – and they are typically extensions or redefinitions of earlier rights (Birdsall, McIver & Rasmussen, n/d, Environmental and human rights, ¶ 2).

Solidarity rights include the right to development, the right to be different, the right to communicate, the right to peace, the right to a healthy environment, and the right to the common heritage of man kind.

The right to communicate

Advocates for the right to communicate argue that ability to communicate is the essence of being human (McIver et al., 2003). Originally the right to communicate had its roots in Article 19 of UDHR [1]. It is also supported by Article 27 [2] and Article 28 [3]. Right to communicate advocates argue that these articles only address information rights, and, as a result, they were unable to handle the rapid technological changes in communication systems that happened throughout the 1950s, the results of which we can see today. Jean D’Arcy argued that “Article 19 was formulated in a post-war environment concerned about the free flow of information or content rather that about the process of communication” (McIver et al., 2003, Satellites and communication rights, ¶ 9). By this, D’Arcy meant that Articles 19, 27, and 28 only really protected the vertical, or top down, flow of information, as characterized by the mass media, and not the horizontal communication that was being made possible by technological developments like satellite systems and, even though D’Arcy died before it was publicly available, the Internet. As McIver et al. argue:

[T]raditional rights based on individual communication structures are outmoded. Because the older communication structures were concerned about the distribution of content, the rights associated with then were focused on content as well. The new, interactive, unified system is about the process of communication, hence, the need for a new right that does not exclude considerations of content, but whose starting point is the process of communication (McIver et al., 2003, Mass media mentality, ¶ 6).

Because the right to communicate attempts to combine and redefine previously articulated rights, it has been difficult to create an agreed upon definition. At first glance, Article 19 appears to state exactly what the right to communicate is trying to say. However, it does not distinguish between information and communication. D’Arcy did not like that these two distinct concepts were routinely conflated. For example, UNESCO originally defined the right to communicate as “the right of all people to receive uncensored, objective information” (UNESCO in Hassan, 1983, p. 59). This is not what D’Arcy intended when he articulated the right to communicate. UNESCO’s definition of the right to communicate is really just a restatement of the traditional right of freedom of the press, which is inherently vertical, or top-down, communication. What it lacks is D’Arcy’s notion of true communication:

The phenomenon of the mass media is neither ineluctable nor permanent. What matters is the establishment or re-establishment of true communication among human beings. The technical instruments for this exist today. They are at last in our hands. This new capability should be matched by new ethics, recognising and organising, both for individuals and … for “the communities which they compose” … (D’Arcy, 1983, p. xxv-xxvi).

Even though a definition of the right to communicate has been difficult to achieve a description of the Right has been developed. It is a multi-layered description, first put forth by L.S. Harms in 2001, that includes fundamental rights, inclusive rights, and comprehensive rights. The first layer describes the right to communicate as a fundamental right. Everyone has the right to communicate. It is both a “natural right of the human person and a prerequisite for the exercise of other human rights” (Harms, 2001, p. 32). However, the exercise of this fundamental right will lead to unintended conflict and debate, therefore a second layer of the description is needed to balance communication freedoms and communication responsibilities: inclusive rights. These inclusive rights could be loosely labelled communication rights and consist of the association rights, information rights, and global rights found in Articles 19 (the right to freedom of opinion), 20 (the right to peaceful assembly), 21 (the right to take part), 12 (the right to privacy), and 27 (the right to participate). In addition, Harms includes the right of choice, even though it is not explicit but instead implicit, in the UDHR. This layer is intended to make the right to communicate an ever evolving and open concept. Harms illustrates this layer as follows:

Association Rights
Information Rights
Global Rights
(Harms, 2001, p. 33)    

He states that: “The three dots signify that from time to time any two specific communication rights may be consolidated or that new specific rights may be added as circumstances warrant” (Harms, 2001, p. 33). In other words, the inclusive rights layer of the description is an interdependent layer. For example, the rights to privacy and inquiry are linked, as are the rights of participation, information and culture. This layer takes into account the potential disagreements that may arise as a result of the first layer. For example, people may have the right to be informed, but that right should not impede upon the right to privacy.

In the last layer the right to communicate is described as comprehensive right. Essentially, this layer of the description brings the fundamental and inclusive layers of the Right together. According to Harms it could be described as:

Everyone has the right to communicate; this fundamental human right includes but is not limited to the following specific communication rights: a right to assemble, a right to speech, a right to participate and related association rights; a right to inform, a right to be informed, a right to inquire and related information rights; a right to privacy, a right to choose, a right to culture and related global rights (Harms, 2001, pp. 33-34).

This multi-layer description also attempts to address the difference between freedoms and responsibilities. Above all, the right to communicate should stress the equality of all partners in the communication process; “it should incorporate [a] multi-cultural, multi-way flow of information …” (Martelanc, 1983, p. 40). As a result, the right to communicate carries with it the notion of both freedoms and responsibilities.

Harms states that the UDHR is predisposed to favour freedoms over responsibilities. For example, Article 19 does not address the debate or conflict that might arise from the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Harms argues that “[i]n a society that is becoming more global, a new balance between freedom and responsibilities appears necessary” (Harms, 2001, p. 34).

The right to communicate should help to create communities of people who “exchange information relating to a commonly experienced world” (Pomorski, 2002, Right to communicate or right to inform?, ¶ 5). Globalization has widened the context for community building and “[i]f the Right to Communicate is to fulfill its constructive task, it should widen the shared context in which information becomes understandable” (Pomorski, 2002, Right to communicate or right to inform?, ¶ 6).

Opposition to the right to communicate

The right to communicate has always faced opposition. In 1974, UNESCO decided to study the right to communicate. As Tomo Martelanc describes it: “the response to [the right to communicate] was rather mixed” (Martelanc, 1983, p. 39). The right to communicate advocates a two-way process of communication and, in the middle of the 1970s and the Cold War, a two-way process of communication between states was almost unheard of. In addition, the developing world saw the right to communicate as another way for Western media conglomerates to further their market share by expanding into the Third world. Moreover, the Western media conglomerates saw the right to communicate as an attempt to frustrate their expansion attempts. The debate of the Right became so intense that both the United Kingdom and the United States of America withdrew from UNESCO (Fisher, 2002; Birdsall et al., n/d; Pomorski, 2002). This, in turn, lead to UNESCO abandoning the debate over the right to communicate, or, as Desmond Fisher states: “The Right to Communicate debate became a victim of Cold War politic” (Fisher, 2002, UNESCO initiatives, ¶ 10).

Business interests are also opposed to the right to communicate because they fear too much government intervention in their corporate affairs. However, as McIver et al. point out, this opposition is not supported by the realities facing civil society. They argue that there has been increased “corporate dominance and concentration of ownership in the media and telecommunications industries with the complicity of governments over the past few decades” (McIver et al., 2003, Opposition to a right to communicate, ¶ 2). As a result, the opportunities that people have to communicate have been reduced. McIver et al. also argue that “this trend has arguably reinforced the ability of predominately Western producers of content to continue the one-way information flow …” (McIver et al., 2003, Opposition to a right to communicate, ¶ 2). This is exactly the situation that advocates for the Right have been tying to avoid.

There has also been some opposition by the press. The press, as opposed to the media conglomerates, is concerned that the right to communicate will supersede the freedom of the press. Many press rights organizations believe that Article 19 of the UDHR is actually enough to protect the communication rights of people and that a separate right to communicate is unnecessary. They argue that the right to communicate could potentially lead to censorship of the press, because of the potential conflicts and debates, which might arise as a result of the right to communicate. McIver et al. argue that this complaint mirrors the complaints of the business sector. The press, they argue, claim to be unbiased and because of this the press believes that it is the only group that truly has a right to communicate (McIver et al., 2003).

National or international implementation?

The debate over the right to communicate is not confined to the international stage. Amongst scholars of the right to communicate there is some debate as to whether or not the Right should be implemented on a national or international stage. In Right to Communicate: Are Old Dilemmas Still Valid? Jerzy M. Pomorski states that his original concern with the right to communicate was the introduction of “a single global legal principle which homogenously normalizes a very complicated sphere of human relationships” (Pomorski, 2002, Introduction, ¶ 2). He foresaw that either the law itself would be ignored or that human relationships would suffer as a result of the right to communicate. However, Pomorski believes that the world has gone through a significant change since the right to communicate was first debated by UNESCO: “The major change was the transfer of the location of information, communication’s important partner, from politics to economy” (Pomorski, 2002, A new situation, ¶ 1). In addition, according to Pomorski, there is currently even less interstate conflict. By this he means that the division created by the Cold War has not been replaced by another interstate division. He does acknowledge terrorism, but he assumes that it does not divide countries in the same way as the Cold War. Instead terrorism places the right to communicate into new light:

The Islamic world of terror wants its argument heard worldwide, whereas the world in opposition would like to restrict the access to this information. … The problem whether destructive messages, messages from ‘”criminals,” should be heard … is valid. As a consequence, in the contemporary politics [of the right to communicate] there reappears a state that excludes from this right: criminals, anarchists, brawlers and the politically correct (Pomorski, 2002, A new situation, ¶ 4-5).

Because there is a lack of interstate division Pomorski is confident that an international consensus on the right to communicate is possible. However, terrorism, both as a state of “criminals, anarchists, brawlers and the politically correct” and its influence on existing countries is forcing states to restrict the rights of its citizens. Therefore, Pomorski argues that the right to communicate must be governed on an international level. By placing the governance of the right to communicate in the hands of International bodies, like the United Nations, the question of who owns the context of understanding information is settled. Pomorski argues that without international governance the opposition to the Right that emerged in the 1970s from the developing world will once again be valid: “… the problems of informational colonialism or cultural domination return with double strength” (Pomorski, 2002, Right to communicate or right to inform, ¶ 7).

One of the characteristics of solidarity rights is that they are very slow to implement on an international stage because they seek an international consensus. According to Hassan, solidarity rights require a total reorientation of international relations. Specifically, this reorientation should be a psychological rather than a political change. Hassan states: “The framers of these rights looked beyond the varied political orientations of states, and focused instead upon satisfying the basic human needs of all peoples” (Hassan, 1983, p. 66). Both Hassan and Pomorski believe that the increased economic dependence between countries will ultimately help to usher forth consensus on solidarity rights. Inexpensive technologies, Pomorski argues, will have a positive effect on the future of the right to communicate:

I wrote before that only the rich can afford active communicating. It was the time of mass-media domination, and the costs of communication were high. Nowadays, thanks to the new media, the issue of costs is not as painful. Today everybody can send off messages and the economic issue boils down to the access to the Internet (Pomorski, 2002, Economic dilemma, ¶ 1).

Unfortunately, Pomorski does not attempt to tackle the issue of access to the Internet. If the Internet has helped to make the right to communicate a viable human right again, as Pomorski argues, then access to the Internet should be an issue that advocates of the right to communicate are addressing.

Birdsall et al. argue for a multi-faceted strategy towards the right to communicate: “it hardly seems conceivable that there would be one best strategy for achieving a [right to communicate] for all people” (Birdsall et al., n/d, Policy paths, ¶ 5). However, as discussed above, all previous attempts to formulate the Right on the international stage, namely UNESCO, have failed. As a result, UNESCO stopped debating the Right and funding research into the Right. In addition, Birdsall et al. argue that international declarations must be, by their nature, general or abstract because they are attempting to address the needs of all human beings. Instead, they argue, rights must be formulated at the national level so that they remain within “the context of the specific political culture and structures of any given country” (Birdsall et al., n/d, The right to communicate and politics, ¶ 3).

Canada has always had a positive relationship towards the right to communicate. In 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau formed the Department of Communications (DOC). The DOC recognized that the technological innovations in satellite and computer technologies were going to have significant impact and formed the Telecommission to formulate public policy strategies to address the effects (Birdsall et al., n/d). The Telecommission released a report in 1971, entitled Instant World. The report is recognized as the first time any government endorsed the right to communicate:

Impressed by [D’Arcy’s] 1969 paper, the Telecommission emphatically stated, “The rights to hear and be heard, to inform and to be informed, together may be regarded as the essential components of a ‘right to communicate’” (Birdsall et al., n/d., Canada and the right to communicate, ¶ 2).

Despite this ringing endorsement, policy makers did not move ahead in translating the Right into public policy. According to Birdsall et al., “the concept did not appear in any subsequent policy white papers and reports of subsequent advisory bodies” (Birdsall et al., n/d/, Canada and the right to communicate, ¶ 3). The government of Canada did, however, continue to acknowledge the ever increasing impact that information communication technologies (ICT) were having on society. Birdsall and Rasmussen claim that the Canadian government’s support of ICTs is simple:

Information technology is the primary cause of change and this change is inevitable. Information technology is transforming our industrial society into an information society. Information is the raw material of a knowledge-based economy. The extensive use of information technology will result in dramatic increases in productivity and wealth. In the knowledge-based economy the market alone should determine what goods and service will be provided, what they will cost, and how they will be distributed (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Ideology of information technology, ¶ 1).

Canada, therefore, only supported ICTs because it believed that ultimately they would help to increase the productivity and wealth of the country. This, Birdsall and Rasmussen believe, is why the Canadian government supported the Information Highway Advisory Council’s (IHAC) initiative for universal Internet access. Although Birdsall and Rasmussen recognize that IHAC’s initiative would help to stop the divide between the information “haves” and “have nots,” they also believe that:

These programs elicit the aid of public cultural and educational institutions in an access strategy aimed at attracting consumers to the information highway. The private sector builders of the information highway, supported by the national government, will serve the “haves;” local libraries, schools, and community centers, subjects to continual budget constraints at the local level, are left to serve the “have nots” (Birdsall and Rasmussen, 2000, Access to the information highway, ¶ 2).

What Birdsall and Rasmussen object to the most is the lack of public consultation around information and communication policy development. In the case of Internet access, the government supported business in attracting consumers to the information highway by supporting programs like SchoolNet, LibraryNet, and the Community Access Program (CAP) then, without public consultation, dropped funding to these programs making these new Internet consumers go to the only place they could for service: the private sector (Birdsall and Rasmussen, 2000).

Policy development

Why did these previous attempts at policy development for the right to communicate fail? Birdsall et al., argue that all previous attempts at turning the Right into policy failed because “the policy process was carried out in a narrow world of academic and policy experts” (Birdsall et al., n/d, Canada and the right to communicate, ¶ 4). This meant that there was no widespread political support for the Right to carry it forward; “the right was dealt with as an abstraction disconnected from the real world of politics, with politics ‘on the ground’ so to speak” (Birdsall et al., n/d, Canada and the right to communicate, ¶ 5). How can policy makers include the general public in the policy process?

Birdsall and Rasmussen argue that the first step to involving people in the process of policy development for the right to communicate is not defining the Right without the input of people: “We refrain from proposing a specific formulation of [the Right] because one of its central components should be a commitment to involving people in decision-making processes” (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Elements of a right to communicate, ¶ 1). On a world stage there has been increased participation in policy development by non-governmental organizations (NGO), who claim to represent civil society or the general public. However, Birdsall and Rasmussen argue that there is some question as to whether or not NGOs actually represent civil society:

Public interest advocates themselves can become incorporated into policy elites and operate in an enclosed world of their own, divorced from those they claim to represent. Indeed, governments have become sophisticated in their ability to foster and manipulate such groups thereby giving the impression the policy process is open and inclusive while in reality it is too often confined to a small policy elite co-opted by government (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Non-governmental organizations, ¶ 3).

This is, in part, why Birdsall and Rasmussen argue that the right to communicate should be implemented on a national level, where it is easier for the public to have their voices heard. Using Canada as a case study, Birdsall and Rasmussen and Birdsall et al. argue that there are four ways to implement the Right in Canada: Constitutional amendment, legislative charter, judicial interpretation, and consensus conference.

Constitutional Amendment

Birdsall and Rasmussen argue that “the most significant advantage of the [Constitutional] amendment process is that it inevitably generates public discussion and debate” (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Charter amendment, ¶ 2). They argue that even if the amendment “fails” (like the Meech Lake Accord) the public still “wins” for, at the very least, public debate over the Right will occur. Birdsall et al. argue that the only “drawback of this strategy is that any effort to amend the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] is likely to draw into the process efforts to add other amendments and make political tradeoffs to settle longstanding grievances of the various regions of the country” (Birdsall et al., n/d, Constitutional amendment, ¶ 1).

Legislative Charter

Birdsall et al. suggest a legislative charter, such as a right to communicate charter, as a way to enact the right to communicate, because the process of Constitutional amendment might take too long and involve too many tradeoffs. The legislative charter would have to make its way through Parliament. Although this process might be faster than a Constitutional amendment, previous attempts, like a legislative charter for privacy issues, have gone nowhere (Birdsall et al. n/d).

Judicial Interpretation

Canadian courts have been known to take a purposive approach to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, meaning that the courts are likely to interpret the language in the Charter in a positive way. “Consequently, ‘it is possible to understand a [right to communicate] to be already embedded in the Canadian Constitution, even though those words are not themselves explicitly used’” (Birdsall et al., n/d, Judicial interpretation, ¶ 1). Judges base their interpretations on the information available to them on the issues at hand. As a result, Birdsall and Rasmussen argue that “[w]e can assist judges in forming their opinions about a [right to communicate] by discussing it in various public fora such as academic conferences and research, consensus conferences, and debates about constitutional amendment” (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Judicial interpretation, ¶ 2).

Consensus Conference

Perhaps the most interesting suggestion offered by Birdsall and Rasmussen is the consensus conference:

When a particular issue is identified a steering committee is established to direct the process. A citizens' panel of fifteen or so people from the general public is formed. Using trained facilitators, this panel attends background sessions, hears testimony by experts, industry representatives, and public interest advocates, and cross-examines these experts. Finally, the panel prepares a concise report reached through consensus. This report is given wide distribution and a high media profile (Birdsall & Rasmussen, 2000, Consensus conferences, ¶ 2).

This process allows citizens to participate directly in the policy process as well as including traditional stakeholders, such as experts, industry representatives, special interest advocates, and the government.

Future policy paths

As Birdsall and Rasmussen and Birdsall et al. clearly established, there are a number of ways Canada could implement a right to communicate on a national level. However, in order for any change to happen there has to be some political will behind the right to communicate. UNESCO provides a perfect example of what happens when the political will for an idea or right dies off: the debate over, and the funding for, the topic ceases. Rebuilding political will is perhaps the first thing advocates of the right to communicate have to do. This can be done in many ways. Birdsall and Rasmussen suggested that judges be influenced by discussing the Right in public fora such as academic conferences and debates over constitutional amendments. However, this might potentially return the policy process back to an academic and expert-centered process. The very process that Birdsall et al. (N/D) claimed ended the original attempts at policy development for UNESCO and Canada. Instead, advocates should focus their attention on the general public at both the national and international levels. The current fight against world hunger, poverty and AIDS could be used as an example. The original campaign started in 1985 with the Live Aid concert. In an effort to keep the issues of hunger, poverty, and AIDS in the minds of the public a group of 400 charities and advocacy groups came together in 2005 to create Make Poverty History. Their intention was to place pressure on the G8 throughout 2005 to end poverty in Africa (Westcott, 2005). Their actions drew the public’s attention with a series of five simultaneously broadcast pop concerts held on July 2, 2005. Advocates for the right to communicate do not have to stage an event of this grandeur to catch the public’s attention. Perhaps, they could start by creating local awareness groups. The issues that the right to communicate addresses - privacy, information rights, and freedom of speech, to name a few - are issues that affect the lives of all people. Local awareness groups should help advocates to lobby local librarians and other information and communication professionals for their support. Advocates should approach already established groups of activist librarians, such as The Progressive Librarians Guild and Information Professionals for Social Justice. Many library associations have round tables on the social responsibilities of libraries. The American Library Association, for example, has a Social Responsibility Round Table that includes an Information Policy in the Public Interest (IPPI) Task Force. According to the IPPI’s website:

[The IPPI] will provide a working group for progressive activists and analysts engaging issues, affecting or potentially affecting libraries, arising from national and international policy-making processes and organizations which, at an increasingly global level, seek to define, develop, and regulate the many elements of the overall information environment, its flows and functions. The IPPI Task Force invites librarians with a social-responsibilities perspective … to work together to establish progressive priorities in the library world with regard to information policy issues (Information Policy in the Public Interest Task Force, 2001, ¶ 1).

Advocates for the right to communicate should engage such groups in the policy debate; there is clearly an audience in librarians. One of the core values of the library profession is the support of democracy through an informed citizenry (American Library Association, 2005). Using this as a base, right to communicate advocates could easily convince librarians that communication, as well as information, is essential in a healthy democracy.  Advocates could then lobby local governments and national governments. Slowly, local action could have an impact on not only national policy but international policy. A real-world example of this is Greenpeace and its fight for environmental rights. Greenpeace started as a small NGO in Vancouver in 1970. Through direct confrontation, or, as Greenpeace terms it, “bearing witness,” Greenpeace was able to attract the world’s attention to the issues of environmentalism. Although direct confrontation is not the best strategy for right to communicate advocates, the advocates should take a closer look at both the Make Poverty History campaign and Greenpeace to see what they are doing “right.”

Right to communicate advocates might also want to change the definition of universal access. Currently, it is defined as “plain old telephone service” (POTS). In other words, rural areas have the same basic telephone service, at a comparable price, as urban areas. The idea is that POTS helps to hold communities together by allowing equal access to emergency 911 and operator-assisted services. Right to communicate advocates should fight to have the definition changed to include the Internet. Birdsall and Rasmussen’s disappointment in Canada’s attempts at universal Internet access should not discourage advocates from changing the definition of universal access. Advocates should encourage continued government funding for such ambitious projects as CAP and LibraryNet.

Lastly, advocates for the right to communicate should continue to push the government to include the general public in the policy process whether through consensus conferences or Constitutional amendments. If the right to communicate is to be implemented then the full participation of the public in the policy process is necessary.


The development of policy that uses the right to communicate as its basis has been difficult. Two attempts have been made: one at the international level by UNESCO and one at the national level by Canada. Unfortunately, both attempts failed due to lack of political will and public participation. right to communicate advocates have an uphill battle before them if the Right is ever going to be officially recognized as a universal human right and be implemented as a policy. Advocates must take the lead of other successful rights groups and attract the public’s attention to the issues surrounding information and communication. The right to communicate offers a framework that will help the world create global communities and expand the contexts for understanding information. The two-way process of communication it promotes will help to foster understanding between diverse peoples and cultures while supporting their rights to cultural determination and privacy.

Deborah Hicks is a MLIS student in the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and completed a Bachelor of Arts with Combined Honours in History and Contemporary Studies at The University of King’s College (Halifax). She completed a Master’s of Arts in History at York University in Toronto. This paper was originally written for Information Policy, a second year course in the School of Information Management’s programme. Her research interests include library history, future directions of librarianship, and the opinions and attitudes of librarians towards change.

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Copyright © 2005-2007 School of Information Management

The Right to Communicate: past mistakes and future possibilities by Deborah Hicks
Dalhousie Journal of Information and Management, volume 3, number 1 (Winter 2007)


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