Public Information & Media Development: Definitions & International Legal Instruments



Media is "a plural form of the noun, 'medium', and connotes the mechanisms by which information is transmitted."1 Hence, the term "refers to the several mediums or channels used in an organised fashion to communicate to groups of people."2 Newspapers, radio, and television are well-known examples. The Internet and the World Wide Web are more recent additions. What this definition exemplifies is that media is a rather broad term, encompassing a countless array of institutions and individuals that differ in purpose, scope, method, and cultural context.

A more limited definition suggests that the term 'media' primarily refers to "the group of corporate entities, publishers, journalists, and others who constitute the communications industry and profession."3 This definition includes both the entertainment and the news industry. In other words, whereas media in its broadest form implies modes of information distribution, in its more limited description, it refers to a body of media professionals.

Mass media, news media, and the entertainment industry

According to Jennifer Akin, "Mass media include all forms of information communicated to large groups of people, from a handmade sign to an international news network. There is no standard for how large the audience needs to be before communication becomes 'mass' communication."4

Mass media therefore encompasses news media, which "include only the news industry. It is often used interchangeably with the press or the group of people who write and report the news."5

The entertainment industry is also a form of mass media, although it may be difficult to distinguish from, and may overlap with, the news media.6 For the purposes of peacebuilding, entertainment programs from music to soap operas are an important component of the media, as "are other channels including street theatre, posters, traditional story-telling, and even comic books, to name only some."7

Electronic media, new media, and information and communication technology

Advancement in media technologies has led to various new means of communication. Different expressions refer to this phenomenon, with some overlapping.

Electronic media refers to non-print-based media, including television and radio.

New media (or 'new forms of communication'),concerned with the computerization of media, refers to "the translation of all existing media into numerical data accessible through computers," specifically, "graphics, moving images, sounds, shapes, spaces, and texts that have been computable; that is, they comprise simply another set of computer data."8 'New media' is a bit of a vague term, and though it depicts a computerization process, this also encompasses mobile technology.
International Legal Instruments: Protecting Freedom of Expression and Access to Information

African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
(Adopted June 1981, Nairobi, Kenya)
Article 9:
"1. Every Individual shall have the right to receive information.
2. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law."

American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
(Adopted 1948, Bogota, Colombia)
Article 4: "Right to freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination: Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever."

European Convention on Human Rights
(Adopted April 1950, Rome, Italy)
Article 10:
"1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary."

United Nations General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(Adopted December 1948)
Article 19:
"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 29.2:
"In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society."

United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(Adopted December 1966)
Article 19.2:"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

Article 19.3:

"The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
1. For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
2. For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals."

Information and communication technology (ICT) pertains to "the hardware, software, networks, and media for the collection, storage, processing, transmission and presentation of information (voice, data, text, images), as well as related services."9 There is much overlap between this expression and new media. These contemporary forms of communication, from mobile technology to online video platforms and networks, are playing an ever-increasing role in peace processes. Go to ICT4Peace and new media

Media development

The notion of (independent) media development refers to a strategy that seeks to strengthen the media sector as an institutional component of good governance and long-term development. It receives particular attention in peacebuilding contexts.10

Public information

Public information is an overarching term that encompasses media. It implies the public production of information but does not designate a mode by which this is done. Here, media often serves as a primary means of public information dissemination, but as is evidenced in many peacebuilding contexts, this is not the only way in which information may be made public. For instance, use of mobile technologies and text messaging has become an important means of public communication, although in that case, the information process actually results from interactions between citizens, rather than through distribution by the media industry per seGo to case study: Kenya

Information versus communication

It is useful to separate the notion of information from communication. Communication is about how a message (information) is put forth (through various media) and then received by another actor or set of actors.11 For instance, the way in which language is formulated and normalized within a society helps aid the process of communication so that specific words connote the same imagery in the minds of people within that community.12 Thus, variance between societies in the norms of language is one factor that presents a challenge to cross-cultural communications.

The distinction between public information and what is thought to be an appropriate communication strategy has been highlighted by some analyses, in particular with regard to the strategy (or lack of strategy) of the United Nations (UN) in countries where peace operations are deployed or integrated offices are created to supervise a peacebuilding process. In many cases, local social and political actors have criticized UN teams for being more concerned with their own publicity and the 'showcase' presented in the international press than with communicating with the countrys population.13 In such scenarios, the UN has been criticized for envisaging its goal as being about representing information, rather than engendering dialogue through a two-way communication strategy. 
Go to challenge: International versus local

Strategic communication

Forms of media are often used in the field of peacebuilding as part of a strategic communication strategy to produce content-specific messages that encourage reconciliatory activities. Strategic communication "refers to a set of guidelines or a framework by which an entity or a government communications [uses] various media or related channels in an organised fashion, with an intended result on a particular reform policy or strategy."14 This form of communication has often been used to establish 'peace media' programs and distribute information on initiatives related to the peace process.
Link to activity: production of targeted programming
Link to debate: peace journalism versus neutral media

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Access to information and freedom of expression as human rights

The rights of public information and media are advocated for on the basis of international law, which enshrines the rights of access to information and freedom of expression. Access to information refers to the right of people to seek out and receive information. Freedom of expression refers to the right to produce and diffuse that information.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights15 and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provide the main international bases for these rights.16 Regional legal frameworks include provisions of this nature, as well. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, for instance, further guarantee freedom of expression, as well as the right to receive information, as basic human rights,17 as does the European Convention on Human Rights.18 

While these rights are non-enforceable, this body of international law has informed many national constitutions, which incorporate access to information and freedom of expression in the national legislation, making them legally binding.

The right to freedom of expression is not absolute, however. Both international law and most national constitutions recognize that freedom of expression may be restricted, in particular to limit hate speech and/or calls to violence. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights place barriers on rights of access and expression where they infringe on rights, freedoms, and security of others or negatively impact the national security of the state.19

1. Tim Allen and Jean Seaton, The Media of Conflict: War Reporting and Representations of Ethnic Violence (London: Zed Books, 1999), 4.
2. Ross Howard, Francis Rolt, Hans van de Veen, and Juliette Verhoeven, eds, The Power of the Media: A Handbook for Peacebuilders (Utrecht: European Centre for Conflict Prevention, 2005).
3. Jennifer Akin, Mass Media, Beyond Intractability, March 2005.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Howard et al., The Power of the Media.
8. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2001), 20.
9. World Bank, ICT Glossary Guide.
10. Shanthi Kalathil, John Langlois, and Adam Kaplan. Towards a New Model: Media and Communication in Post-Conflict and Fragile States (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2008), 8.
11. David Harvey, The Condition of Post-Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1990), 49.
12. Ibid., 52.
13. Beatrice Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below (Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, 2006), 147-50.
14. Frances Fortune and Oscar Bloh, Strategic Communication: The Heart of Post-Conflict Processes. ACCORD 2 (2008): 18.
15.United Nations General Assembly. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted December 10, 1948.
16. United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adopted December 16, 1966.  
17. Article 19, War of Words: Conflict and Freedom of Expression in South Asia (London: Article 19, 2005), 27.
18. Dusan Reljic, The News Media and the Transformation of Ethnopolitical Conflicts (Berlin: Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management, 2004), 10.
19. Article 19, War of Words, 29.

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