(My father’s work with the Right to Communicate Group, who published a website in 2002)
I first became interested in the right to communicate during the meeting of the International Institute of Communications (IIC) in Cologne back in 1975. My interest stems from two sources. As a Northern Irish Catholic, I have a commitment to human rights and I saw in the right to communicate a worthwhile cause. Secondly, I am interested in philosophy and once I read the existing material I saw the task of defining the rtc as a sort of philosophical challenge. My first article on the right was ‘The Right to Communicate: A philosophical Framework for the Debate’.
My membership of the IIC brought me into close contact with Jean d’Arcy, the ‘father’ of the rtc and I became both his disciple and his friend. It was an honour for me to have been chosen to give an address in his memory at an IIC annual conference following his death.
It was a cause of regret that work on the right both at IIC and Unesco level came to a halt for several years. Now, with the launch of a new website devoted to the work, there are hopes of a new impetus being given to the task.
I felt from the beginning that the rtc is both a great idea and a great ideal. I still think so even though I realize that it will be very difficult to get the right enshrined in an international agreement and probably impossible to be put into general practice throughout the world. This is why the new website is an essential tool in getting the research and debate moving forward once more. I have contributed a new article to the website which gives my thoughts on why the earlier work was halted and on how it can best be progressed now.
Many things continue to interest me about the right to communicate I would like to help get the research and debate moving again before I hang up my computer. As to what will keep me interested: as always, if someone else writes a piece challenging anything I have written on the rtc, I will be ‘coaxed’ into a reply. At 82, I have only a limited amount of physical movement, but I would love to be able to meet a few of the early rtc-ers – I think particularly of Aldo Armando Cocca, Mohamed el Sheriff, Tomo Martelanc, Henri Pigeat and others – to chew over old ideas and refresh past memories. And I would especially like to renew on a face-to-face level a happy acquaintance with Stan Harms, to whose commitment and assiduity the new website owes its being.
About The Right to Communicate
The right to communicate was first proposed by a French public servant, Jean d’Arcy, in 1969. He wrote:
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, first laid down … in Article 19. This is the right of man to communicate. This is the angle from which the future development of communication will have to be considered to be understood.
Later, Jean d’Arcy saw the Universal Declaration as encompassing several communication rights beyond those enshrined in Article 19 including assembly, participation and privacy. Four long-range goals are pursued in this website:
Goal 1. Describe and define the human right to communicate.
The human right to communicate requires, for many purposes, a clear description and a common understanding. Later, within a new human rights instrument, a formal definition may become possible that specifies a standard of achievement. At present, some persons devote a significant percentage of their lives to the advancement of this right. Diverse groups claim this right is a precondition for the exercise of all the other human rights.
Goal 2. Collect, organize and expand the literature on the right to communicate.
The literature on the right to communicate is collected here. Page long summaries of out-of-print papers have been prepared along with brief reviews of out-of-print and in-print books. Links are established to selected websites. Two new collections of papers are available here. This searchable knowledgebase can facilitate the preparation of new papers, technical reports, policy studies, theses, books and web-based materials.
Goal 3. Facilitate activities on the right to communicate in research and education.
For the right to communicate to evolve, activities are needed that test old and generate new knowledge. One section of the website will focus on basic and policy research and another on education programs. The intent is to undertake both independent and collaborative activities and, when possible, to make information available on activities underway elsewhere.
Goal 4. Advance the right to communicate — personal to universal — for everyone.
From the earliest discussion of the right to communicate, it was recognized that the process of advancing this right would be both long and hard. The launch of this website marks the beginning of an effort to speed up implementation by designing and testing new approaches and by collaboration with other organizations with related interests. You are cordially invited to participate in work on these goals; this website can help you do so.
In summary of the Unesco decade long right to communicate program, the 1985 Report of the Director General states:
‘ … the fundamental importance of the right to communicate stems from the fact that all of 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.’
For this right to be viewed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples, it will be necessary to define this right in a binding Convention on the Right to Communicate or equivalent instrument.