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The People’s Communication Charter: An International Covenant of Standards

Submitted to TBS by Cees J. Hamelink, professor of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam and initiator of the People's Communication Charter.
For reactions: hamelink@antenna.nl

For more information on this charter, its history and development, and the signatories, please see The People's Communication Charter: An Introduction, by Cees Hamelink.

We, the Signatories of this Charter, recognize that:

Communication is basic to the life of all individuals and their communities.

All people are entitled to participate in communication, and in making decisions about communication within and between societies.

The majority of the world's peoples lack minimal technological resources for survival and communication. Over half of them have not yet made a single telephone call.

Commercialization of media and concentration of media ownership erode the public sphere and fail to provide for cultural and information needs, including the plurality of opinions and the diversity of cultural expressions and languages necessary for democracy.

Massive and pervasive media violence polarizes societies, exacerbates conflict, and cultivates fear and mistrust, making people vulnerable and dependent.

Stereotypical portrayals misrepresent all of us and stigmatize those who are the most vulnerable.

Therefore, we ratify this charter defining communication rights and responsibilities to be observed in democratic countries and in international law.

Article 1. Respect 
All people are entitled to be treated with respect, according to the basic human rights and standards of dignity, integrity, identity, and non-discrimination.

Article 2. Freedom 
All people have the right of access to communication channels independent of governmental or commercial control.

Article 3. Access 
In order to exercise their rights, people should have fair and equitable access to local and global resources and facilities for conventional and advanced channels of communication; to receive opinions, information and ideas in a language they normally use and understand; to receive a range of cultural products designed for a wide variety of tastes and interests; and to have easy access to facts about ownership of media and sources of information. Restrictions on access to information should be permissible only for good and compelling reason, as when prescribed by international human rights standards or necessary for the protection of a democratic society or the basic rights of others.

Article 4. Independence 
The realization of people's right to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the development of self-reliant communication structures requires national and international assistance. This includes support of development communication and of independent media; training programs for professional media workers; the establishment of independent, representative media associations, syndicates or trade unions; and the international adoption of standards.

Article 5. Literacy 
All people have the right to acquire information and skills necessary to participate fully in public deliberation and communication. This requires facility in reading, writing, and storytelling; critical media awareness; computer literacy; and education about the role of communication in society.

Article 6. Protection of journalists
Journalists must be accorded full protection of the law, including international humanitarian law, especially in areas of conflict. They must have safe, unrestricted access to sources of information, and must be able to seek remedy, when required, through an international body.

Article 7. Right of reply and redress 
All people have the right of reply and to demand penalties for damage from media misinformation. Individuals concerned should have an opportunity to correct, without undue delay, statements relating to them which they deem to be false and which they have a justified interest in having corrected. Such corrections should be given the same prominence as the original expression. States should impose penalties for proven damage, or require corrections, where a court of law has determined that an information provider has willfully disseminated inaccurate or misleading and damaging information, or has facilitated the dissemination of such information.

Article 8. Cultural identity 
All people have the right to protect their cultural identity. This includes respect for people's pursuit of cultural development and the right to free expression in languages they understand. People's right to the protection of their cultural space and heritage should not violate other human rights or provisions of this charter.

Article 9. Diversity of languages 
All people have the right to a diversity of languages. This includes the right to express themselves and have access to information in their own language, the right to use their languages in educational institutions funded by the state, and the right to have adequate provision created for the use of minority languages where needed.

Article 10. Participation in policy-making 
All people have the right to participate in public decision-making about the provision of information; the development and utilization of knowledge; the preservation, protection and development of culture; the choice and application of communication technologies; and the structure and policies of media industries.

Article 11. Children's rights 
Children have the right to mass media products that are designed to meet their needs and interests and foster their healthy physical, mental and emotional development. They should be protected from harmful media products and from commercial and other exploitation at home, in school, and at places of play, work, or business. Nations should take steps to produce and distribute widely high-quality cultural and entertainment materials created for children in their own languages.

Article 12. Cyberspace 
All people have a right to universal access to and equitable use of cyberspace. Their rights to free and open communities in cyberspace, their freedom of electronic expression, and their freedom from electronic surveillance and intrusion should be protected.

Article 13. Privacy 
All people have the right to be protected from the publication of allegations irrelevant to the public interest, or of private photographs or other private communication without authorization, or of personal information given or received in confidence. Databases derived from personal or workplace communications and transactions should not be used for unauthorized commercial or general surveillance purposes. However, nations should take care that the protection of privacy does not unduly interfere with the freedom of expression or the administration of justice.

Article 14. Harm 
People have the right to demand that media actively counter incitement to hate, prejudice, violence, and war. Violence should not be presented as normal, "manly," or entertaining, and true consequences of and alternatives to violence should be shown. Other violations of human dignity and integrity to be avoided include stereotypic images that distort the realities and complexities of people's lives. Media should not ridicule, stigmatize, or demonize people on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, and physical or mental condition.

Article 15. Justice 
People have the right to demand that media respect standards of due process in the coverage of trials. This implies that media should not presume guilt before a verdict of guilt, invade the privacy of defendants or others, and should not televise criminal trials in real time while the trial is in progress.

Article 16. Consumption 
People have the right to useful and factual consumer information and to be protected from misleading and distorted advertising. Media should avoid and, if necessary, expose, promotion disguised as news and entertainment (infomercials, product placement, children's programs that use franchised characters and toys, etc.), and the creation of wasteful, unnecessary, harmful or ecologically damaging needs, wants, products, and activities. Advertising directed at children should receive special scrutiny.

Article 17. Accountability 
People have the right to hold media accountable to the general public for their adherence to the standards established in this charter. For that purpose, media should establish mechanisms, including self- regulatory bodies, that monitor and account for measures taken to achieve compliance.

Article 18. Implementation
In consultation with signatories, national and international mechanisms will be organized to publicize this charter; implement it in as many countries as possible and in international law; monitor and assess the performance of countries and media in light of these standards; receive complaints about violations; advise on adequate remedial measures; and to establish procedures for the periodic review, development and modification of this charter.

About Cees J. Hamelink

Professor of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam and initiator of the People's Communication Charter.

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