Unesco General Conference Resolution 3.2: Right to Communicate, 1983

Unesco General Conference Resolution 3.2: Right to Communicate, 1983

This brief Resolution mandates an examination of the Unesco work since 1974 on the right to communicate. That 21 page 1985 report provides a 'State of the Art' as of that date and concludes that the '...fundamental importance of the right to communicate flows from the fact that there is probably not a single one of the established rights including the right to life or the self-determination of peoples which can be fully exercised and enjoyed without communication between its beneficiaries ...'

The General Conference

Considering that the notion of the 'right to communicate' has been a subject of study in the Unesco programmmes since 1974.

Taking into acccount, in particular, the progress made in this field through the work of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems and by subsequent meetings to discuss this subject,

Recalling that the aim is not to substitute the notion of the right to communicate for any rights already recognized by the international community, but to increase their scope with regard to individuals and the groups they form, particularly in view of the new possiblities of active communication and dialogue between cultures that are opened by advances in the media,

Invites the Director-General to implement in this spirit the activities provided for in paragraphs 03128 to 03131 of Document 22C/5, and to report to the general Conference at its twenty-third session on the results obtained.


This report responds to resolution 3.2 adopted by the General Conference at its twenty-second session, and has been preceded by the Report on the Means of Enabling Active Participation in the Communication Process and Analysis of the Right to Communicate submited to the nineteenth session of the General Conference (19C/93). It incorporates the results of consultations with Member States and professional organizations since 1976. the report presents the state of the art and examines the right to communicate in view of other established human rights. Taking into account the diversity of views, the report suggests options for the future. ...

Part B. The 'Right to Communicate': A State of the Art

Par 13. The last four decades have seen an unprecedented evolution of human rights concepts as well an an expansion of their beneficiaries. But even greater than the progress in codifying human rights have been achievements in scientific and technological developments. ... Regulations imposed by a system characterized by the scarcity of communication resources will become obselete in a situation of abundance, or even overabundance, of information. According to some, it is possible that the importance of the mass media will decline; instead, the media of communication as a whole will interlink in complex combinations to meet increasingly individual needs, while group communication will become more and more competitive with communication through the media, and inter-personal communication will be freed of spatial constraints.

Par 16. ... a clear consensus has not yet been reached on the precise content of this 'right,' or on the best ways of establishing and implementing it. This lack of consensus is due to several factors. One is the time which must necesssarily elapse before an originally nebulous concept can be transfromed into something feasible and practical. Another is the international political climate of the last few years, which has scarcely been conducive to the achievement of consensus of new concepts in international law. A third factor has been a persistent misunderstanding in some quarters, in equating the right to communicate with another concept called a 'new world information and communication order,' some aspects of which have proved to be contentious between different groups of States. And lastly, some fear that it may lead to actions with normative consequences, such as a demand for an international code. However the principal isssues which currently surround the concept of the right to communicate are now at least clear. These are:

  1. how it is to be described or defined -- as an emerging concept, or one already proclaimed but not yet established, or one only requiring the synthesis of already established elements;
  2. how, once established, it is to be implemented;
  3. what is its relationship with some other concepts such as the right to development, and especially with the notion of a new world information and communication order.

Par 17. Regarding the first issue in international law, it is useful to distinguish between principles whi are already established by treaty or custom, concepts which are not established but have been proclaimed (e.g. in non-binding international instruments), and concepts which are still only at the emergent stage. Depending on the position one takes, the right to communicate can be viewed in any of these ways. ...

Par 18. The fundamental importance of the right to communicate flows from the fact that there is probably not a single one of the established rights, including the human right to life, or the right of self-determintation of peoples, which can be fully exercised and enjoyed without communication between its beneficiaries. ...

Par 19. All these established rights necessairly entail the right to communicate in order to achieve their exercise and enjoyment, since that exercise and enjoyment would be frustrated without approrpiate communication. ...

Par 24. Briefly, by way of summarizing the present state of the art regarding the right to communicate, the following appears as evident: there is as yet no clear consensus on the precise content of the right to communicate, and even less on the ways of establishing and implementing it. In fact, the diversity of opinions, ranging from pronounced opposition to enthusiastic support, has given this subject the stigma of a controversial issue at a time when it may be most needed. Pariticularly so when one considers the rapid development of communication technologies and opportunities they provide for better communication at all levels of society. On the other hand, it is becoming equally evident that the fundamental importance of the right to communicate stems from the fact that all the major established human rights can be fully exercised and enjoyed only on the basis of genuine, comprehensive communication understood as an inalienable right of each human being. This dependence between the established human rights and the as yet undefined right to communicate asks for further endeavours in this area.

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