Spry memorial lecture 2003
November 17, 2003 At Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre Vancouver, B.C., Canada
The state of current human rights provisions for the information society is the central concern of this lecture. A key argument will be that international human rights law does not provide for a right to communicate. This right refers to communication as an interactive process, as public and private dialogue. The recognition of this human right would demonstrate that the protection of the freedom to engage in dialogue is seen as essential to human dignity. The forthcoming United Nations World Summit on the Information Society will be challenged to extend the present human rights regime with the right to communicate.
Transcription disponible uniquement en anglais
Introduction by Professor Robert Hackett School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
It’s my pleasant duty to welcome you to this 8th annual lecture of the Graham Spry Fund for Public Broadcasting. As you probably know, the Spry Lectures are made possible thanks to an endowment from the friends of the Spry family, created in the memory of Graham Spry, one of the pioneers of Canadian public broadcasting. I am also especially pleased that we have in attendance with us today one of the former Spry Lecturers, Daryl Duke, the author and broadcaster, who has just received, I understand, a lifetime achievement award from the Director’s Guild of Canada. This year, we’re tackling a fundamental and even universal question: the right to communication. This topic has finally been included in the agenda of the international community because for the first time in recent years, a World Summit of the United Nations is going to look into the issues of global communication, and our invited speaker, Professor Cees Hamelink from the University of Amsterdam, is directly involved in the process of this summit, of which he is going to give us some impressions. We’re extremely lucky to have him with us this evening, given the preparation of the Summit, which will take place in less than a month in Geneva.
Dr. Cees J. Hamelink studied philosophy and psychology in Amsterdam. He is a professor of international communication at the University of Amsterdam, and he has worked as a journalist as well as a consultant for several international organizations and national governments. At present, he is the director of the International Journal for Communication Studies Gazette, former president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, the IAMCR, president of the Dutch Confederation for Human Rights, initiator of the People’s Communication Charter, and member of the Administrative Council of the International Communication Association as well as of the International Press Agency, Interpress Service. Most relevantly I think, as far as the topic of tonight’s lecture is concerned, Professor Hamelink is also at present a special advisor to the UN in light of the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society. But I think that this brief biography really doesn’t do him justice because for those of us who are working as scholars and/or as citizens on issues of democratic communication and communication rights, Professor Hamelink has been a source of inspiration and wisdom for many years. It is my great pleasure to welcome him here this evening.
The Right to Communicate in Theory and Practice:
A Test for the World Summit on the Information Society
Cees J. Hamelink
I thought the best I could do to prepare myself for this lecture was this morning to take the Globe and Mail and look at my daily horoscope. And it says something interesting. It says, “The important thing today is that you act as if you know what you do even if you have no idea at all.” When you wonder this evening what I am doing up here, I’m just living up to my horoscope. You see, among the many books that you could take with you while traveling around the world, there is one book that I think everyone should have on the bedside table. It’s the book written by the late American historian, Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly, in which she explains that as human beings we are far more stupid than all other animals because we keep making the same mistakes and we absolutely refuse to learn from mistakes, and she says this is particularly true for politicians. She says they are afflicted by a peculiar disease that she calls imbecilicus. Now my question for this evening is, how stupid is the United Nations? Can the United Nations learn from its mistakes? Because as we are preparing for this World Summit on the Information Society, which will take place in December of this year in Geneva, and then in 2005 it will take place in Tunis. This is the third occasion in history of the United Nations that the international community deals with information and communication issues. The first time was 1948—the big conference on the freedom of information, which was quite a disaster because that was the beginning of the heating up of the Cold War. The cold fronts really went down in ideological struggles, although one thing came out of it which is useful: that’s the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the article that provides us with the freedom of expression. That was the only good thing to come out of this conference.
The second time the UN tried its hand at information issues was the 1970s. These were the emotional times of the new international information order, or as it later came to be called, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). Also that effort was just a disaster and really didn’t lead to anything. By the end of the ‘70s, that debate was practically over, the US and the UK decided to leave UNESCO, and no one wanted to be reminded ever of NWICO, and even today, where in the United Nations you raise the issue and you whisper in someone’s ear, NWICO, people get immediately a post traumatic stress.
So now is the third time. Now let’s see how well we can do this time with the early 21st century, because we have a tall order. The Secretary General of the United Nations has given this World Summit an important mission: and he said the mission of the World Summit is helping the world’s people to communicate.
Now the question is, can the World Summit on the Information Society achieve it? Can it achieve helping the world’s people to communicate?
In order to do that, the conference would have to at least deal with four major dimensions of information and communication today. It would have to deal with the issue of inclusion. It would have to deal with the issue of freedom. It would have to deal with the issue of confidentiality, and it would have to deal with the issue of diversity.
Now let’s go back to inclusion; that’s the first issue of the agenda of the World Summit because everyone involved in it talks desperately about the digital divide that we have to resolve. And inclusion would indeed mean that all people in the world have an equality of access to the infrastructures of communication—the pipelines, if you will, the networks—an equal access to contents, information and knowledge. Now as you all know, that access today is highly unequally distributed. If you just take the simple case of the infrastructures, over half of the world’s people have never even seen a telephone, and that’s going to remain like that for many, many years to come. We like to think about the Internet as a global network, which of course it is not. If you are very, very optimistic, maybe by 2015 or 2020, some ten, twelve maybe, let’s be really irresponsibly optimistic this evening, let’s say fifteen per cent of the world’s population will surf on the Internet. And most of these fifteen per cent will of course live in the urban capitals of the poor world and will live in North America and Western Europe. So much for equal access to a global network! So the World Summit will have to think of some thing to resolve that. And one of the things it will, just in a very trivial way have to think about, is just money, because however you put it, however you look at the digital divide, however you divine this and perceive of this, it’s going to cost money to resolve the problem.
I was asked a couple of years ago by the UN to calculate what would it cost if all people in the world would have access to a telephone, meaning not a telephone in their house, because that’s an awful luxury, because that’s crazy for most people in the world, but at least a telephone so placed that you don’t have to walk more than one hour to make a phone call. And then of course all these people would also need a little subsidy to pay for the charges because particularly in rural areas making phone calls in the world is very, very expensive. You can’t imagine–imagine you’ve walked for an hour, you finally get to a telephone and you can talk to your family in the urban capital, you’re not going to say “hello, how are you, I’m doing well” and you walk back for a day or so. No, you’re going to talk at length and that’s going to cost money. And then, of course, the UN says, “and let’s give all the schools in the world a small computer, an old one, but this is all right, it’s poor people so you can give them obsolete equipment. And a little access to the Internet, and a little money maybe to surf.”
So I did a little bit of calculation, shuffled some figures around, and I came up with a nice round figure. And I said to my friends in the UN, “this is going to cost eighty billion dollars for the next ten years, annually.” And the UN thought that that was an awful lot of money. And they didn’t think they were going to have that kind of money, so they said, why don’t we ask business because you know that’s always the solution. No public funds, let’s go to business. So I thought that was a smart idea so I went to business and I talked to the British telecoms and the French telecoms and all these big telecom corporations in the world. And I said, “Wouldn’t it be a nice idea for all these poor people around the world and all these poor villagers, they don’t have a telephone. Now, if you all together spent eighty billion dollars each year for the next ten years, all these poor people can have a telephone.” They all looked at me as if I was making an indecent proposal. And they said, “You must be out of your mind, you’re not living on this planet! We are not in charity!” And the guy at the British telecom was very articulate, he said, “If these poor buggers in poor countries can’t have a telephone, that’s not my problem, that’s their problem.” So business was not going to be helpful. I have to talk to the governments again, talk to the UN again. And I said, “Listen, you initially said it was a lot of money, but it’s not because I did my homework and I did a little bit of calculation. I came up with some comparative figures and I discovered every single year consumers in North American, including Canada, and Western Europe, spend on ice cream, on the eating of ice cream, and on the feeding of their cats and dogs, eighty billion dollars. So I said to myself, it’s not a problem. Stop eating ice cream – that should be easy. Strangle your cats and dogs and the whole world can have mobile telephones—it’s just a matter of priorities.”
When I lecture at the end of the week, I’m a good Dutch Calvinist. You see, we have a very dim view of humankind. We don’t believe in salvation. We basically think we’re all sinners. I’ve got two Dutch friends here—they know what I’m talking about. But it’s Monday. I would be quite happy to give you an enormous depression on Friday because I would figure you’ve got all weekend to recover, but on Monday one has to be optimistic. So let’s say we could resolve this. Let’s say I get my eighty billion dollars and everyone in the world has access to a telephone and access to the Internet. Marvelous, yeah? Well, the World Summit would then have to solve yet another problem, because if tomorrow (you think of this), if tomorrow all the Chinese get up, all two billion of them, and they say what we’re going to do today, we’re all going to switch on our computers and we’re all going to switch on our fax machines and our printers, and we’re all going to talk into our mobile phones, that’s the end of the planet. We can’t sustain it. We don’t have enough energy for the resolution of the digital divide. So I’m not saying we can’t resolve this lesson – let’s be optimistic, but we’ve got to think about something to deal with the energy problem.
Now let’s assume we resolve the energy problem because we promised we were optimistic today. Now we have another problem, because all that equipment that is so rapidly obsolete, where do we leave it? We are building up an enormous mountain of electronic garbage. You see, many governments around the world now are very worried about electronic waste because all these nice pieces of equipment contain enormous amount of poison. There’s strontium, there’s cadmium, there’s lead, there’s all kinds of dangerous things for your health, particularly your mobile phones. I think next time you make a phone call, think about this—there’s cadmium in your phone, it gives you kidney problems, so be… You can see this. I saw this today walking in the streets of Vancouver. I saw several people with mobile phones and the classical attitude is always, you have the mobile phone here and hand here, and that’s where the kidneys are, that’s where it begins. So we’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to think about something. And then we’ve also got to think about the resources that are needed to make your mobile phone calls. You see, one of the things that few people realize, that in order to make a mobile phone call you need a resource that stabilizes the electricity in your mobile phone. That resource is called coal tongue. Without it, you can’t make mobile phone calls. Now the trouble is coal tongue is over 60 per cent mined in the Congo in Africa. That’s why they are killing each other over there. So, I mean I don’t want to discourage you or depress you, but I would like you think about the next time you make a phone call on your mobile phone, you realize you’re funding the civil war in the Congo. I hope you enjoyed it.
But let’s assume we solve all these problems—environmental problems, technical problems, resource problems, we solve the digital divide, we get the world access to the pipelines, to the infrastructures—then we still have no content. No use to have a network and have no content. Now here the World Summit has another problem because content in today’s world is increasingly becoming a commodity. It has a price tag attached to it. Content in terms of information knowledge is no longer free. It becomes corporate property, and it is very well solidly protected by an expanding regime of intellectual property rights. And here something very odd happens. And I haven’t yet figured out how that works. You see, let me take you in your imagination on a trip to Geneva. In Geneva, you have a building here—that’s where the World Summit meets. So you have some almost 200 delegations for member states, all these ambassadors talking about these information issues. Across the street you have another building—that’s the building of the World Trade Organization. That’s where they talk about telecommunications, about intellectual property rights, about culture. Now here in this building people are saying, “It would be quite nice if we were going to give the whole world access to knowledge and information.” Now across the street in this other building, they say, “We built up the proprietary regime that makes it very difficult for people to get access without paying for it.” So I thought in my naivety if I tell the ambassadors here, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if occasionally you just crossed the street and talked to the buggers down there because they are creating all kinds of rules which go absolutely contrary to what you want to promise the world.” But they look at you as if you talk a strange language. There’s no understanding that these two things have something to do with each other, and that you can’t promise the world free access to information without changing the world’s intellectual property rights and regimes. So, a tall order for the World Summit. And that of course is only the issue of inclusion, of access, availability, affordability.
Let’s move to the second item on the agenda: freedom of information and communication. Again, a massive problem today because as you will recall some of us hoped that in 1989 when the wall fell in Berlin that that was going to be the end of totalitarian states. And the end of awful totalitarian states would also mean the end of censorship around the world. How naïve could we be! Censorship didn’t go away, it never goes away. It’s even on the rise around the world, in many countries, and particularly with regard to that media which was supposed to be the freest of all media, the Internet. It would be my projection that in the next years we will see that the Internet is the most censored medium ever, and if I look at the preparations for the World Summit, I see there are a large number of member states of the United Nations that are preparing to really put very heavy restrictions on access to and the use of the Internet. And there’s a real strong trend among a large number of member states, and to some extent you can identify them because it’s not only the usual suspects (such as China and the Arab states and Muslin countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and some other countries), it’s a fairly large number of also so-called liberal democratic states that are interested in finding new ways of censoring information flows. And one of the dangerous ways to do that is that if you look at the preparatory documents for this conference, you will find that at least at six or seven times in the draft final document, the governments have ended with a little phrase which says, “in accordance with national legislation,” meaning that you can have article 19, you can have freedom of expression, but it has to be subject to national laws. That is an extremely dangerous disconcerting development as in so many countries these national laws are very conservative and very restrictive.
And again, political censorship doesn’t only occur in what I would call the usual suspect countries. It happens close to your door, almost on your doorstep. I was reading last week in several newspapers from the United States that the President of the US has thought about a very nice new way of dealing with censorship. Mr. Bush has a little problem because there’s an increasing number of people in the States that say things he doesn’t want to hear. And he doesn’t like it. But he has a problem, an enormous dilemma because he also has to face the First Amendment to the US Constitution which gives a very robust protection of free speech. Now he’s thought of something which I think is absolutely smart. He has created what’s being called by his aides the “free speech zones.” There are certain places in Washington where you can say whatever you want, you can say whatever you want against the President, but it’s at a great distance from the White House so he doesn’t have to listen to you. Free Speech Zones, a new form of political censorship. And then of course, you know, we have the increasing number of forms of corporate censorship, economic commercial censorship, around the world. And the worst of it, I think, is still to come.
I now hear that in the World Trade Organization in Geneva, you know in this building over here where the people who sit here don’t want to talk to, but they should absolutely go there, and if they go there they will hear that there is a growing number of nation states these days negotiating about the possibility of privatizing the electronic magnetic spectrum. And, you know, the electronic magnetic spectrum is the place now where all the frequencies live, so to say. Without the spectrum, you can’t communicate electronically—you need that desperately for all your electronic communications. Now, for some time, some of us thought that these frequencies in that spectrum, just like the deep oceans in outer space, were sort of like common property, the common heritage of mankind. But that, of course, is good old-fashioned thinking. In today’s world, anything you can privatize, you’ve got to privatize, whether it’s the water or whether it’s the…I wouldn’t be surprised in a couple of years not only the water in the world reaches to a large extent already privatized, but also the air you breath, you’ve got to pay for it. You can’t continue thinking that that belongs to all of us. Some bugger is going to come around that says, “I privatized this and I lease the air to you.” Now they’re talking seriously about privatizing the electro-magnetic spectrum and then leasing it out to the largest users. Basically that will mean that AT & T and AOL Time Warner and a couple of these big giant corporations would control the spectrum and would also control the access to it—that’s the largest unprecedented form of censorship this world has ever seen.
So the World Summit has quite some problems on its agenda and it remains to be seen whether it can deal with it. Because in addition to the inclusion and the freedom, it also has to deal with the issue of confidentiality. And as you all know, the confidentiality of communication is under enormous pressure these days, particularly after 9-11, around the world. It is almost as if many governments have waited for the occasion to begin to suspend people’s civil and political rights in the area particularly of privacy and the protection of privacy. And it doesn’t look like as if many of the measures that are now being installed with reference to national security and the war against terrorism, it doesn’t look like they are going to go away easily because this is something that many governments—and again, not only dictatorial governments but also my own government—has been looking for a long time; because there’s something funny about governments. I think most people I know in government, when you talk to them and when they have had something to drink, they will usually make the same profession: “It’s awfully nice to be in government but what a problem with citizens. The nicest thing would be to have government without citizens. They always create problems, they ask questions, they’re nasty, they want things, so the least we should do is survey them, keep an eye on them. You can never trust citizens, they’re always plotting and planning, they’re always doing naughty things, so keep an eye on them.” That’s what’s happening in the world today, and the great legitimacy of many people will be quite willing to trade their privacy for the protection of national security.
The last item on the agenda: diversity. Well, the best thing of course would be if we had in the world, if we’re going to help the world’s people to communicate, if we had a diversity of communication channels, a diversity of ownership of these channels, and a diversity of contents, information and knowledge. But here again, the World Summit is up against an enormous challenge because that kind of diversity is rapidly withering away in the world. And again, as a result of the corporate ownership and the concentration, all these things that you know about, but also because of what happens in that building here in Geneva, in the WTO. Because in the World Trade Organization they are now negotiating about the fact that culture should be treated like anything else in the world. Now, there are some funny countries in the world like France and Canada and then a number of developing countries that plead for something like the protection of their cultures. Now that’s not something that goes down very well with the World Trade Organization. They say you’re selling culture around the world just the same as selling shoes or cars. There should be no protective measures; there should be open markets, you know, nothing in terms of an exception. So not what the Canadians and the French have been pleading for over the last several years, a rule of cultural exemption, so that trade and culture is exempted from the same rules as normal commodities. But it looks very much like a lost battle. You may remember that recently the WTO had its meeting in Cancun in Mexico which was described by many newspapers as a failure. I actually thought it was quite a success. I thought it was an extremely successful meeting. It’s also good that the meeting ended as it did because the US administration had blocked to that meeting in Cancun, and it had lobbied very effectively to get the support of most of the EU countries and a large number of other countries to indeed get rid of the rule of cultural exemption. So again, it is desperately needed that the people here at the WSIS talk to the WTO people because unless this changes, it makes no sense to talk about diversity.
Now it’s odd actually that we have to deal with these problems. Why? Because since 1948, the world has accepted a whole series of legal provisions on inclusion, on freedom, on diversity, on confidentiality. It’s all marvelously arranged; it’s all there in international law. And not in a sort of voluntary freewheeling statement, it’s there in binding law. There’s only one little problem. It’s marvelous that the international community has provided for all these things in law. The problem of course is that that law is not enforced. And I think one of the things that I would like to propose to you is that the lack of enforcement of human rights provisions in the world is not just an incidental thing; not something that just happened. It’s a political decision. It is just a political choice that the international community has made, that, yes, we’ll have human rights but we will do nothing about a violation. If the world community was really interested in doing something about all these violations (because the most characteristic element of universal human rights is that they are universally violated around the globe, twenty-four hours around the globe), so what we need, what the world desperately needs, is a world court on international human rights. And it is really bizarre that after all these years, since 1948, we don’t have that world supra-national court. We have regional courts for human rights like the Europe and the Intra American court, but we don’t have a world court. We have today in The Hague, in the Netherlands, after enormous difficulties, an International Criminal Court where the world community can deal with gross violations against humanity, crimes against humanity, violations of humanitarian law. Well, that’s been a long story and it’s been very difficult, and of course, you know, it’s a bit of a pity that a country like the United States of America doesn’t want to be a member of the International Criminal Court. It’s one of those minor countries that want to get out like Somalia and a couple of these countries. That’s a pity but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an important step—it’s an enormously important progressive development that now we have that International Criminal Court. Now we need to have an international or a world court for human rights violations because otherwise the world will never be serious about enforcement.
Now, as I said, I promised I was going to be non-Calvinist this evening, I was going to be optimistic, so we solve all these problems: we have human rights to deal with freedom, inclusion, confidentiality, diversity. We now have my international court to look at the enforcement. Now we should be happy? No. Why shouldn’t we be happy? That is because all these provisions that I’ve talked about so far are only dealing with communications in a very limited way. All these provisions are based on communications as the transmission of signals. So far, international law and all the human rights provisions, whenever they talk about information and communication, they do that within what you might call the transmission mode. They look at information only in terms of how do you transmit a signal from A to B; a very limited conception and if you look for example at all the preparatory documents for the World Summit, you will find that depth perception prevails, and actually the word that you’ll find very often in all the documents is the word “information.” You’ll be very hard pressed to find the word “communicate.” It’s about information; it’s about the transfer of information. It’s not about communication.
You see, the UN has bought, lock, stock and barrel, this very peculiar concept of the information society. This, I think, is really leading the United Nations into a major trap because it’s the first time in the history of the United Nations that we have a conference about something that no one knows what it is. You see, when there was a conference about women, the Beijing Conference, at least fifty per cent of the world knew what that was all about. But now no one knows what the information society is. Our opinions are highly divided. It’s a flawed concept intellectually. The information society doesn’t exist sociologically. It’s a useless concept. It’s a promotional slogan, that’s what the information society is. It promotes, it suggests to you a social arrangement in which information is absolutely essential. That’s a very smart one because that comes to you at the same time that information increasingly becomes a commodity. So you’re advised to live in a society where you can’t do without information, but you’ve got to buy it.
The information society also comes with a suggestion that information in itself is something good, that it is benign, and that more of it is better. That’s highly questionable. Why would the information be so good? Well, people will say, you know, let’s look at the conflicts in the world, like people who are in ethnic or genocidal conflict: if they’d had more information about each other, if they had more knowledge about each other, they would understand each other better and there would be less conflict. What a tremendously naïve assumption! Most people in the world have conflicts with each other, not because they lack information, but because they know precisely what the other party wants. And you see, this evening as you’re sitting here, all amicably and in a very specific mood, you should call yourself tremendously happy that you have a limited amount of information about all the other people in this room. If you had perfect information about what all these others were thinking about, we’d have bloody civil war raging in this room. The happiness of ignorance is endless! Marvelous! And the suggestion that more information would be better is a typical naive enlightenment ideal that the more information, the more science, the more technology we have in the world, the more moral progress there will be. But I think that enlightenment myth drastically was shattered in hours/weeks at Hiroshima. A desperate weapon.
And you see, we have a peculiar attitude towards information. We know information may not in itself be good, and yet all of us want to have more of it, at higher speed. That reminds me of a little story of two elderly ladies sitting in a beach resort and they’re having dinner and one says to the other, “What awful food!” And the other says, “Yes, and such small portions.” That’s the way we think about information. Now we need to absolutely desperately move from information to communication. I don’t think when I look at the world and travel around, our world doesn’t need more information; it doesn’t need more knowledge. We don’t need information societies. We desperately need communication societies. We desperately need to learn to talk to each other. If we want to solve some of the lethal imminent conflicts that we’re going to see over the next ten, twenty years in this world, we need to talk to each other; we need to understand that we have to move from transmission to interaction. And it’s peculiar that that notion of interactivity isn’t really present in the thinking around this World Summit, at least not in so far as the governments are concerned. It’s one of the deep differences between the governments preparing this conference and civil society preparing this conference, that the governments are absolutely locked into the transmission mode of thinking, focusing on information, and the parties that represent civil society are really giving a lot of emphasis to communication and to interactivity. And that makes a lot of sense because today we live in a world in which networking becomes so natural, and in which we have all these interactive technologies at our disposal.
Now, let’s assume that civil society gets its way and that the World Summit and the diplomats are willing to entertain the notion of interactivity. That is when they begin to entertain the notion of a right to communicate. Because you see the right to communicate is nothing more than just the articulation of the fact that people are entitled to participate in interactive processes. The right to communicate says people have the right to participate in the public dialogue in their societies.
Now, there is an awful lot of resistance against that notion. So we may try from civil society to get it on the official agenda of the World Summit, but I don’t think we have a good chance to be very successful there. That is partly because some people think that the right to communicate means that we are going to redo the debate of the 1970s. All these traumatized people from the 1970s say, “Oh, the right to communicate.” They don’t even know what it means but they say, “That must be absolutely wrong. That’s evil. That’s the bad guys who propose this.” So whatever you say to them, it doesn’t make any difference. That’s a biological problem. The people who are resisting the right to communicate with reference to the 1970s just will have to die one day. That’s the end of that debate. There’s no other way. There are people who are far more reasonable and who say, well maybe you know we don’t need a right to communicate because we have all these nice provisions already in international law. And they think you can automatically move from a transmission mode to an interaction mode, which you can’t with articulateness. And then there are people who have really understood what the risks of interaction are. There are a large number of governments in the World Summit, a large number of ambassadors, who understand that the right to communicate goes to the core of the democratic process. It’s the essence of democratic society that all people are entitled to participate in the public dialogue—something which is in today’s national and international politics not very popular.
But let’s assume we get the governments in one way or another to accept the notion. What would they have to do? What would be the conditions under which this right to communicate could be secured and real? Let me propose three to you. One of course would be inclusion. The first problem would be how can we secure that all people in societies will be enabled to participate in the public dialogue because today a large number of people are excluded for cultural, religious, linguistic, or whatever reasons. In most countries people who have a hearing deficiency are excluded from the public dialogue. In many countries people with mental disorders are excluded, or people in prison, or the elderly. There’s large numbers of people in those societies that are excluded from participating in the public dialogue. That would be the first item on the agenda.
The second item on the agenda would be, where will you conduct the public dialogue? In public space. So you would have to secure that some public spaces in the world will be left because they’re very rapidly around the world withering away. And I have often thought that public space is just a species that’s about to be extinct, just like we have with certain animals. And we have this world wildlife fund that protects animals that are about to be extinct. I think we should have a similar fund for public space. It needs care; it needs protection, because increasingly around the world what used to be public space is now owned by private corporations. You may know when you walk downtown Manhattan in one of these plazas there is this little sign that says, “This is public space owned and maintained by AT&T.” That’s the reality of our world. And the reality of our world is that increasingly the open public space of the market, of the agora, as the Greeks would say, is exchanged for the shopping mall. I’ve seen so many shopping malls around the world that when I came to Montreal last week, I thought, “Oh, bless me! This will be a place in the world where there will be no shopping malls.” And ‘lo and behold, there is more than you can manage! And then I traveled to Vancouver in great hopes and it is all shopping malls! And the remarkable thing about Canada is that many of these shopping malls are underground, so I’ve come to the conclusion that in Canada the underground movement is your shopping mall. So public space.
And then the third condition which is probably the most demanding: you see, if you take the right to communicate seriously, that implies the right to be listened to, the right to be heard. Because you see that is what is wrong with the free speech zones of Mr. Bush. They provide for free speech but they don’t provide for the right to communicate. But the right to communicate implies that people’s views will be taken into account. Now I think that’s the most demanding condition because listening to other people, taking their views into account, doesn’t fit very well in modern society. We are rapidly unlearning the art of listening because we talk most of the time. Just look at the media, look at television. What happens all the time is talking, talk shows. I ask my friends in Dutch television, couldn’t we have a listen show one day? Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to finally see someone on television listening to someone else? It would be great. It would also help our kids to understand how important listening is. You see, the interesting thing is that when you come to think of the way we communicate in our societies, you see that even when we call it interactive, much of our interactivity is still locked into the transmission mode.
Let me give you the example of two fairly popular communication formats: that’s the debate and that’s the babble, chatting. You see, we like debating in many countries, and we think that’s great because that’s interactive. But debating is still the transmission mode because debating means it’s a contest, it’s war with words, it’s about winning, it’s about scoring. It’s not about listening to someone else. Now you’re a better debater the less you listen to someone else, or you get worried, don’t take someone else’s argument into account—just talk. And the one who talks loudest, wins the debate. That doesn’t help us very much in terms of the richness of interaction. That’s still the transmission mode. And the same thing happens when we babble. Oh my dear Lord! I think we’re not into an information society; we are really into a babbling society! We babble most of the time. Look at television—it’s babbling day and night. Or look at what we do on the Internet—it’s chatting. Or look at what we do on mobile phones—babbling all the time.
Now, it’s not that there’s something inherently wrong with it, because, you see, the babbling among human beings is just like the grooming among the monkeys. You see, I babble to you and I send to you a signal, “I am not dangerous, I can be trusted because I babble.” And you babble back to me, so I think, “I don’t think he’s really aggressive. He looks angry at me but I don’t think he’s basically bad because he babbles and I babble.” And we babble at the same time—nice thing, you don’t have to listen. You see, you always hear this when you hear people talking on the mobile phone. I get the impression that someone talks here and on the other end someone talks at the same time, it makes no difference. Babbling, talking, talking, really without saying anything. Now, the babbling, of course (this is a little bit living reckless but I thought I should also share this scientific finding with you), one of the problems is with all the babbling on the mobile phone, you know, you see people having all these phones close to their ears—don’t. There are arguments within the medical world about whether there are electro-magnetic waves coming out of your mobile phone going into your brains. And there’s some contestation as to whether that is true, whether these waves indeed lead to the melting of your brain. It is scientifically proven that that’s the case. The only thing you need to do, you go to public spaces, in trains, in lounges of airports, and you listen to people babbling on mobile phones. Those brains have melted a long time ago. So be careful.
So babbling and debating doesn’t help because what we really need is the dialogue. What our modern societies indeed desperately need is the art of the dialogue. That implies really listening. Now, that is extremely difficult because genuinely listening to someone means you’ve got to suspend you own opinions, you’ve got to question your own assumptions. You’ve got to be open to change; otherwise the dialogue has no meaning. That is difficult for most of us because however liberal we are, deep down most of us are just fundamentalists—we like to hang on to our own viewpoints. And most of us, however progressive we like to pretend we are, are basically conservative. We like to hang on. Buy the dialogue is a very demanding condition for the right to communicate to be indeed realized.
And the core problem possibly is that when you put the right to communicate into this overall framework of universal human rights, you’ve got to understand that that whole framework can be summed up in one sentence, and that sentence is, “All people matter.” That’s a beautiful sentence, that’s a great thing that the drafters of the Universal Declaration did in 1948. For the first time in human history, they coined this phrase, “All people matter.” No one is excluded. But that is also tremendously difficult, and that is probably the critical core of all our problems with human rights. I guess that probably most people behave relatively decently and respect human rights within the boundaries of their own tribe. But beyond the boundaries of our own tribe or ethnic or whatever we call, it gets very very difficult. But that’s precisely what human rights tell us. These rights ought to be printed and awarded beyond the borders of our own tribe. Human rights also say you can’t leave the defense of these human rights just to governments only. It would be too easy for us to say, let the governments in the World Summit resolve this. Human rights are a responsibility for all citizens of the world. So the right to communicate is not only something that the governments will have to table on their agenda, and for which they will have to provide resources and legal rules and enforcement, it is also something that all of us will have to speak up for. We have to learn to speak up on behalf of all people in the world whose views should be taken into account, and who should be listened to.
Now may I conclude with a small reference to a sermon that was given immediately after the Second World War in a German church by Martin Niemoller. Martin Niemoller was during the Hitler time a submarine commander, and he turned during the war against Hitler. And after the war he became a minister in the German Lutheran Church, and in his first sermon he says, “One day they came and they went after the Jews. I didn’t speak out because I’m not a Jew. The second day they came after the Gypsies, and I didn’t speak up because I’m not a Gypsy. And the third day they came and they went after the homosexuals, and I didn’t speak up because I’m not a homosexual. And the fourth day they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up on my behalf.” Now speaking up on behalf of all these others, of all people that matter and whose views need to be taken into account, is an enormous challenge.
And if by the end of this lecture you feel slightly discouraged and, although it’s Monday, already a bit depressed, maybe a little story can help you. There is a stupid guy who steals the horses from the Sultan, something you should not do, and he gets the death sentence. But he says to the Sultan, “Your Excellency, what happens if I can teach your horses to fly?” And the Sultan is intrigued and says, “If you can teach my horses to fly, I give you a year reprieve.” The guy comes home and his wife is very sensible and says, “You’re out of your mind. How could you ever say something like that!” And he says, “Well, you see, look at it this way. It’s a year. Maybe I die. Maybe the Sultan dies. Maybe the horses die. Maybe the horses can fly.” Please keep that in mind. Maybe the horses can fly. Thank you very much.
[End of lecture]
Questions and Answers:
Question: I’m Freda Warton from Women’s International Newsgathering Service and also a Vice-President of AMARC, the world association of community radio broadcasters, and I’m probably going to be in Geneva next month and I’m wondering what’s the strategy. I love your vision. I hate the principal vision. Are there any points where we can dig in?
Dr. Hamelink: The World Summit is very strange in the sense that if you look at all the earlier Summits on women, on social development, on population, or what have you, on the environment, it’s the normal diplomatic procedure is that several months before the final Summit a final statement has been prepared by governments. There is always some sort of consensus statement and that will then be presented at the final meeting by the heads of state. Last week it was the last preparatory meeting for the World Summit and the governments have agreed to disagree. For the first time in the history of the UN, with a couple of weeks to go, the governments can’t agree on the joint statement. Which is interesting because it also indicates how crucial these issues are, and that we talk about information and communication. They are so complex, so politically loaded that the governments can’t agree. Now the interesting thing is that the representatives who will be there on behalf of civil society (and there is a fairly large community–there will be thousands and thousands of people representing many different organizations such as AMARC and others) are now drafting their final declaration and it seems to be quite possible for the citizens of this world to come to some sort of a consensus statement. Now it would be really very ironic if in December the governments can’t agree on a joint statement and civil society can. Now the question for civil society, of course, is where does it stand with regard to the official Summit. Because initially, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, wanted this Summit to be totally different from all earlier Summits. And he had this ideal in mind that this for the first time in the history of the UN would be a real open democratic inclusive process in which states and business corporations and citizens would take part on equal level, and would join in the final decision making. Now the governments have made quite clear that they don’t want that. Actually there is one government that has really set the tone for this whole conference and that’s the government of China.
Now the unfortunate thing is that in the past whenever governments would speak, they always followed alphabetical order, you know, in all the UN meetings, you’ve got these little signs that say Albania, Belgium, what have you. China fortunately was called for many many years the People’s Republic of China. That was a great blessing because it meant that the whole world had spoken and then the Chinese would say something. But the Chinese are far smarter than all the diplomats. They call themselves China now. The Albanians have no money to go to the meeting, the Australians are still travelling, the Belgiums are having a good beer somewhere, so China speaks first. And the Chinese ambassador gets up and he says, “Two things ought to be absolutely clear about this meeting.” This is last year’s one. “This meeting is a meeting of states. We don’t need citizens. And the second thing ought to be clear: this is not about human rights. Information is about the digital divide, it’s about access to technology. It has nothing to do with human rights.”
And what then happens—let me use one-half minute to explain to you how that diplomatic process operates—you sit through that day, and the Chinese have made that statement and you are expecting that of course the ambassadors of the European Union, or my own ambassador, would stand up and would say, “Well, we have a rather different point of view. We think that citizens are quite important to the democracy and we want to have human rights.” They don’t. No one speaks up. So by the end of the day you go to the Dutch ambassador and you say, “Why didn’t you speak up?” And he says, “Well, that’s very clear. Because this World Summit on the Information Society is absolutely not wanted by the US administration. The US administration has made it clear time and time again they don’t want this conference, but since they are out voted in the General Assembly, they want to have at least a very low profile, low key, and I would like to get rid of it. Now if China says we don’t want to have citizens, and the European Union ambassadors say, we don’t agree, the Chinese will walk out. And then the Americans will say, ‘See, we’ve always told you, you can’t have a World Summit, the Chinese walk out, you can’t have a World Summit without the Chinese’.” End of the World Summit. I mean that’s in shorthand how international diplomacy operates.
Now the civil society could either walk out. There are still groups that plan in Geneva to walk out. There are still people who belong to the alternative organization movement who are preparing, who are putting some stones in their backpacks to throw through windows in Geneva, as their contribution to world peace. And civil society to some extent is somewhat divided also because in the past when it was clear that we were not going to be any part of the process, civil society would have its alternative conference. There’s always an alternative summit. But now we were led to believe that we are going to sit around the table with the governments. So it’s taken a long long time for the idea to sink in, you know, that we’ve just been cheated, we’ve just been deceived, we’re being led astray by the governments. They let us believe that this would be a different conference, and now slowly it becomes clear it is like it’s always been, and now it is a bit too late for civil society to organize it’s own big alternative summit. So what will happen in Geneva will probably be enormous chaos. The governments will be in total disarray, total chaos, and hopefully no heads of state daring to show up because of all the embarrassment. And then hopefully civil society will come up with some statement, and I would desperately hope that civil society does what it has said last Friday at a press conference in Geneva. It has said, “We don’t want to be part of anything that the governments come up with. We want to make very clear that we will not legitimize any whatever final statement that the governments make.” That I think is helpful, and then of course what needs to happen next, that we are still part of the process because the WSIS takes place in two installments: Geneva this year and in two years time we have Tunisia. So many civil movements look at it as a process and look at the possibility of all the things that we could do in between. Now, I don’t have great hopes, actually, I must say (gosh, I sound pessimistic—Calvinist). Year 2005 is a bit of a little problem because, you know, it’s going to be Tunisia, and that’s a beautiful country but there’s a little problem that the Tunisian government has decided to appoint as a convener for the second part of the World Summit a Tunisian general who has more human rights violations and more torture on his record than you can remember. Now that doesn’t auger very well for the second part of that conference to have that kind of character leading the conference. So we have a little problem. But I think civil society has to remain active, and if nothing else, we should use this opportunity as an educational tool and hopefully get some media attention because the obstacles are (and then let me conclude otherwise I keep talking until Christmas), the odd thing is that nowhere in the world is there any media attention for this World Summit. The media simply give no coverage so far, which is a pity because some of these issues I think should reach out to broader audiences.
Question: A comment and a question. As to the views about the information society being commodified, the communication society it seems to me would be no different, indeed, we’re already seeing it commodified, being encouraged to talk on our cell phones, and so forth. The question was that you talked about these three bases for our right to communicate, and you mentioned about the right to be heard and the right to be listened to, and you also talked about whose views should be listened to, but what about the right to be heard by people who have some power to make some kind of decisions. Is that a fourth point, or is it part of the third?
Dr. Hamelink: I think it would be part, as far as I am concerned it would be part of the third point because I think that’s the core of the democratic process. Democracy really means nothing if the freedom to say whatever you want and those in power wouldn’t have to listen to you. And that’s why I think—I tend to agree with your point that if you change from information to communication society you may still also end up with a commodified society, and I think that again would also be enormous dangerous commercialization, and so on and so forth. But what I’m basically trying to say is I think, you know, now in the 21st century it doesn’t really make sense to remain locked into only one limited notion of what communications is all about. Now listening would indeed as far as I am concerned be one of the core elements in any democratic society. And this is precisely what doesn’t happen. You find also in my own country there is all the freedom you can get to say whatever you want, but it’s the freedom of a guy who stands in Hyde Park corner and talks endlessly about everything that he or she wants to talk about and everyone just passes by and no one cares and no one takes the view into account. That’s nice to have that freedom, that’s why I’m saying it’s nice to have article 19 of the Universal Declaration but that only provides you with the right to say whatever you want, which is crucial. And again, that’s also a crucial element of course of any democratic system, that people have their free speech. But I don’t think it is enough.
Same Questioner: But is it also important that the people who are listening, taking into account what they say, aren’t those very people just standing around the soapboxes, it’s the people who have power to effect change.
Dr. Hamelink: Well, that’s precisely why there is so much resistance because some people in power understand that is you go to try to implement this; you get a fairly different sort of arrangement also in our so-called democratic societies.
Question: You mention about a lot of people after the war still do not have even a phone or whatever to communicate. I just think about this, is there any deal for us, people living in the western world, to do anything for them as long as dictatorships are still in charge in those places. And also one more thing is that if our money, tax payers money, is being used to enforce those dictators somehow, anyhow, would that be a maintain how typically that way still pay high regard to human rights because totalitarian never respect human rights and they never allow the right of communication?
Dr. Hamelink: That’s certainly true but fortunately, and I find it somewhat encouraging, we have seen all the past decades some changes in some parts of the world where, not necessarily because governments themselves certainly saw the light of day, but because of broad civil movements, governments have been forced to change; and where totalitarian regimes have been overthrown as a result of very powerful civil action. So I think where we ought to begin, I wouldn’t be the kind of person who would support someone like the American President who says if you got a dictator you don’t like you just bomb the country back into the medieval stages. So I don’t think that’s a way. I would rather like to begin with ordinary people, and I would like to think, and I know this sounds maybe a bit irresponsibly unrealistic and romantic, but I would like to begin to think about the fact that most people in the world, while they live in totalitarian regimes or in liberal democratic regimes, don’t even know there is something like human rights. There’s a tremendous lack of knowledge in the world. Now why do I think that’s important? That is because when after the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, I was asked to do a lecturing tour in South Africa to talk about human rights which was very moving because this was for the first time after all these years of apartheid that the discussion on human rights was possible. Human rights was not on the agenda in South Africa for such a long time. So I talked about human rights and after the lecture someone comes up to me in tears and he says, “This is the most beautiful day of my life. I’ve never known there was something like human rights.” And he says, “I’m the principal of a small school in Soweto. Do you think these rights also pertain to my kids?” And I said, yes, the nice thing about human rights is they are important for all, also for your kids. So he says, “I’ve got to rush back to my school. I’ve got to tell the kids.” And then he asked for materials and we’ve been sending him all these materials for the Children’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and I went to visit his school again after some time and the kids all now know about human rights and they discuss it. And kids understand that very well around the world in whatever culture, whatever country, little kids, five, six years old, great philosophers. They understand what human rights are. And they need to know, not because I think immediately that will change and revolutionize the world. I’m not that naïve. I don’t think that teaching people human rights will immediately overthrow totalitarian regimes, but wherever I’ve gone in the world, in whatever small village and talked to people of human rights, it makes enormous difference in their self esteem because for the first time (it’s difficult for us to understand in this part of the world), for the first time in their lives they begin to understand that what’s done to them, the oppression, the exploitation, the rape of their children, or whatever it is, is against international agreements. It’s not something that always happens so it will always be like that, and maybe it’s even justified because that’s the way the world is. Now they’re beginning to see this is not the way the world should be because the international community has said also to these people in villages, “You belong to us, these fundamental rights to your dignity, to not be humiliated, is part and parcel of the fact that you are a human being and no one is excluded.” And it begins with that enormous feeling of empowerment because suddenly you realize that you are the victim of the perpetration of acts that are condemned by the international community. That’s a very powerful experience to suddenly realize that what’s been done to you is indeed a criminal act. So that’s why we ought to begin.
Question: I just want to know about the Summit. I would like to know particularly about the civil society. Will there be any kind of idea about censoring what are called news blackouts which we have in Canada? Two upcoming elections, provincial and federal and particularly the provincial, was suffering a lot of budget cuts. Tremendous blackouts. They want to shut down an entire newspaper here called the Georgia Straight because they have a couple of writers who speak against the injustices of this government. So what I’m interested in is the Summit going to address some of these issues of news blackouts and not sharing anything important to the public?
Dr. Hamelink: Not the World Summit in its official way. It’s one of the odd things about this Summit, that it takes enormous amount of trouble to convince the governments that assemble in Geneva that when you talk about the information society or whatever precisely you formulate this, that you should talk about the media. So far, the media are not even on the agenda. And I find it really particularly bizarre that after what we’ve seen over the past years, I mean we’ve had a decade of four major wars: the Gulf War, then Kosovo, then Afghanistan, then the war against Iraq. And you see in these four wars how enormously effectively the power of propaganda, the spin-doctors and the connivings of media with them has been. So it would make sense that the World Summit makes a statement about this, the quality of the provision of news and the dangers of propaganda. And the official Summit won’t. Now, there’s a great deal of people within civil society who feel very strongly about it, so I think this is probably going to be part of the contribution of civil society. You also need to realize that in this conference more than in any other Summit, there is something going on which is quite peculiar, and that is that the real expertise, and all the knowledge and all the experience with regard to information and communication is in civil society. I’ve talked to quite a number of ambassadors who in this conference more than in other Summits feel totally intimidated because in civil society you have the Association for Progressive Communication, you have the community broadcasters, you have the alternative media, filmmakers, you have the alternative news agency, the press service, you have the International Federation of Journalists, seven hundred thousand working journalists in the world, you have the European Broadcasting Union, you have an enormous power of expertise and knowledge, so civil society knows an enormous amount more about what is at stake than the governments, which also creates a real, real problem in this conference. So I think some of the more sensitive issues will not be addressed by the World Summit ambassadors, but are likely to be addressed by civil society.
Question: I was in the Ontario Human Rights Commission at the time of the Beijing Conference on Women, and the dispatches we were getting in were quite shocking, and this goes, I think, to the question on totalitarianism because the response we were getting from totalitarian states was that there are no universal human rights. These are cultural impositions of the West created by capitalism, etcetera, etcetera. How do you answer that? How do you say that yes in fact there are human rights that are written in to human nature and this is where they are?
Dr. Hamelink: Well, I usually deal with that whole debate about whether these rights are universal or whether they are relative to cultural situations or whether they ought to be interpreted within the local context by saying first of all it’s really a mistaken historical notion that at the time of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the majority of member states in the UN were western countries. That was not the case—the majority was really what we now call third world. All third-world countries have immediately, when after 1948 they began to draft a national constitution, they were totally free to write in the constitution whatever they wanted, they usually always use the Universal Declaration as a model, and have made a national constitution in the replica. Now that is a peculiar development. Then in preparation for the major UN conference on human rights in 1993 in Vienna, there was a lot of discussion about precisely this question, and a large number of states like some of the Arab states, and China, Malaysia, Indonesia, tried whatever they could in preparatory meetings to get rid of the notion of universal human rights. But eventually when the final declaration of that conference was written, all the member states of the United Nations, with no exclusion, voted for a phrase in the final declaration that says these rights are universal. So as far as I’m concerned, I would now always say there is a political consensus. We have agreed in ’93 unanimously that these rights are universal. You can’t go back on that all the time.
Now, the last thing: this is something that I did in an interview I had in ’93 with the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, because the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs had made this very strong statement about the impossibility of the universality of human rights. And I could talk to him because as you may know historically the Dutch and the Indonesians have a somewhat peculiar relationship—I mean, we colonized their country for some 400 years so we can talk to each other, we understand each other. So I said, “Dear Excellency, can I have a little bit of your time because you made this enormous statement about the fact that human rights are not universal. Can I give you an advice? I would like you to go to East Timor and I would like you to talk to those people who have been tortured, the women who have been raped, and to the loved ones of those who have been wounded by your military, and I would like you to ask the victims whether they think that human rights should be universal or part of Indonesian culture.” Just the shortest interview I ever had with a minister. But it’s absolutely essential –the victim’s test is decisive. Wherever I go, anywhere in the world, I’ve always noticed that the debates about these rights are not universal, they’re culturally determined, that there’s usually a discourse of the political elite. I’ve never found that with ordinary people. I never found that with victims of human rights violations.
Question: could you please give me some idea of how a World Summit begins, that’s to say, what are the seeds of such a summit, how is it called, and who calls it?
Dr. Hamelink: Well, there is first of all an experience within the United Nations of having regularly a World Summit on major issues—there is this tradition growing over the past years, on human rights, environment, and so on and so forth. Now, throughout the 1990s, increasingly within the General Assembly the issue of information and communication sort of came up, initially just in the corridors. And the whole notion of the information society became a bit of a buzzword. Many delegates would talk about it and there was a general feeling that something important was happening in the world, with all these rapid change in information and communication technology, you have e-commerce, you have e-government, you have issues of security, privacy, you’ve got the digital divide, the Internet, so slowly people began to think this is something that the international community has to address. Then what happens is that the logical proposal of the General Assembly was that that Summit would have to take place under the umbrella of UNESCO. UNESCO is the scientific and cultural organization of the United Nations which always dealt with these issues, and UNESCO has a large experience dealing with civil society. So some governments were very happy with that—some of the European governments, and the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was very happy with that, but then the US Administration made clear, first of all they didn’t want to have that conference at all. This was partly due to some corporate lobbying in Washington of some of the leading corporations who felt that a World Summit would only mean trouble and would not necessarily help their marketing, so there was a feeling that this was not something that the US Administration should be involved with. So the US Administration makes clear. And this is still Bill Clinton. It’s good to say that because every time you say something about the US Administration, everyone will think, oh if there’s something wrong, it is apparently George W. Bush. But don’t forget someone preceded him—he wasn’t necessarily… and he looks so good now in retrospect, you know.
So the Clinton Administration did not want that World Summit and there was a lot of pressure because the largest majority of the UN would vote in favour of the World Summit and then the compromise was made that the meeting would be convened not by UNESCO, because this was a time when the US had not yet come back to UNESCO (this only happened a couple of weeks ago that the United States has agreed to come back to UNESCO, which is a story in its own right—you don’t want to hear all the details. Oh, yes, actually one detail is quite nice, you know. When the Americans decided to come back to UNESCO, it was quite clear that this would not be dealt with, as it should have. In any normal circumstance, the head of state would have to travel to Paris. That was entering again an important UN body—not a minor thing in the international diplomacy. Now George W. Bush decided not to go and sent his wife Laura, which almost amounts to diplomatic insult to do that. And the interesting thing was that the Americans decide on really insulting UNESCO and really insulting the French particularly, but there was also the French, the French thing there, and the nice thing about—imagine, Laura Bush arrives in Paris, she’s prepared for an enormous amount of hostility. President Chirac behaves in his most elegant way. He is a real enough French flirtatious person. He meets her in his most elegant way, he kisses her hand, and if you have looked at the photo op, she is thoroughly embarrassed. So that’s the US coming back into UNESCO.)
So it couldn’t be UNESCO. It had to be ITU. ITU is the International Telecommunication Union. Those are the technicians in the UN. We always call them the plumbers. They are the pipeline people. They have no social interest, no cultural interest; they have no experience with civil society. They were asked then by the UN General Assembly to convene this conference. That was from the very beginning just asking for trouble. So that is how it goes, and then of course if we get the time up until Christmas I could give you a lot of other boring details about international diplomacy.
Question (from Daryl Duke, a previous Spry Lecturer): Just very briefly may I say that we are in your debt for such an energizing union of so many interesting things that you brought forth, and I certainly for one have appreciated again hearing from the inside so many of those things. There is a very small point that you brought up that I found interesting, perhaps it got lost beside the very large concepts that you were dealing with, and that was the notion of public space versus private space. And a lot of the big issues, people wonder why they do not get addressed, are, and perhaps you’d like to comment on, is that more and more of the control is going over to private space, and that should comment on disarmament or comment on human rights from a Summit meeting or from any kind of meeting, and they don’t get addressed because it’s under the control of the private space rather than public space. And it’s like the right to picket or protest is taken away from us if we’re not on a public road. If we’re on a mall, as you’ve talked about, the security guards can kick us all off the mall because that’s private space. If we’re on the road, the police can’t kick us off, but the same is now happening with the airwaves and all the media. It’s going over to private space where we in a sense are kicked off. And all these big issues that you and others know so much about and spent your life on are being restricted more and more each day because they’re more and more in private space. And I’d like to hear your comments, what you’re seeing around the world about that.
Dr. Hamelink: Well, I think it’s precisely as you say, I think increasingly, also our streets and our sidewalks all over our cities where sidewalks have been privatized, where you can’t even speak freely on a sidewalk because some sidewalks have become private property. I’m increasingly also worried about what happens to an institution that’s very dear to me all these years, and that’s the universities. Is the academia also slowly being more under corporate control and under corporate sponsorship which will definitely limit our freedom of speech, and I’ve always believed, you know, there’s lots of things wrong with universities, and they are often awful bureaucratic places to work, but they’re great places also because you can say whatever you want, but the trouble, of course, is that no one listens to you. Oh, your students occasionally, but they have to. I always wonder whether they would listen to you if they didn’t have to because of their grades. But then my worry is that that public space that we still have left in academia is also shrinking and is withering away, and I was telling my students in Amsterdam, look at me, it’s the last time you’ll see me in this suit. Next year I’ll be teaching in a T-shirt that says, “this lecture is brought to you by Sony.” Thank you.
[end of Questions and Answers]
Cees J. Hamelink
Dr. Cees J. Hamelink studied philosophy and psychology in Amsterdam. He is Professor of International Communication at the University of Amsterdam, and Professor of Media, Religion and Culture at the Free University in Amsterdam. Professor Hamelink has also worked as a journalist as well as a consultant on media and communication policy for several international organizations and national governments. He is currently the editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Communication Studies: Gazette, past president of the International Association for Media and Communication Research, president of the Dutch Federation for Human Rights, founder of the People’s Communication Charter, and board member of the International Communication Association and the international news agency Inter Press Service. Professor Hamelink has guest-lectured in over 40 countries and is currently special adviser to the United Nations for the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society.
Among the sixteen books he has authored are Cultural Autonomy in Global Communications (1983), Finance and Information (1983), The Technology Gamble(1988), The Politics of World Communication (1994), World Communication (1995), The Ethics of Cyberspace (2000), and Human Rights for Communicators(forthcoming, 2003). Professor Hamelink is also a regular commentator on radio and television in the Netherlands.