Communication rights are vital to transforming the global economic structure
by Philip Lee
Speaking at the Global Ecumenical Conference on a New International Financial and Economic Architecture taking place 29 September to 5 October 2012 in Guarulhos, Brazil, Rev. Dr Karin Achtelstetter, General Secretary of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), said that "Any discussion about an alternative financial architecture must take into account the design, role and ownership as well as the powers that control information and communication structures."
The conference is the joint initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), World Communion of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Council for World Mission (CWM) to propose a framework and criteria for a new international financial and economic architecture that is based on principles of economic, social, climate and ecological justice; serves the real economy; accounts for social and ecological tasks; and sets clear limits to greed.
In a presentation by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) titled "Towards a new information and communication architecture?", Dr Stephen Brown, WACC Director and Vice-President of WACC-Europe, argued that, "This is not just a question of critical analysis, but also of how information and communication technologies can serve as an alternative neural network that affirms justice and challenge injustice."
The conference is taking place against the background of measures put forward by the leaders of rich, industrialised nations and international financial institutions to tackle financial volatility and prevent the recurrence of financial and economic crises. Critics argue that the proposals currently on the table fail to attend to the root causes of financial and economic collapses which continue to have profound consequences for millions of people's lives.
Achtelstetter and Brown presented the case that information and communication technologies are the central nervous system of the current international financial architecture. "Money has become bits of data stored on computers and moves around the world as bytes of information on data communication networks," they said.
Since communication is a basic human right, essential to people's dignity and community, it is vital to focus on the changes in information and communication technology architecture that can serve as strategic tipping points for changes to the international financial architecture.
For WACC this means promoting communication rights at local, regional and global level, working with all those denied the right to communicate because of status, identity, or gender, advocating full access to information and communication, and promoting open and diverse media.
The current information and communication architecture is not simply the result of technical developments, but represents a political decision in the Western world in favour of deregulation linked to globalisation and neo-liberalism. That political option has been masked by utopian vision of a grand and generous information society distributing its benefits to all sectors of society.
Consequently, in developing a new international financial architecture, it is necessary to go beyond the so-called Bretton Woods institutions to include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other institutions that seek to develop alternative discourses on ICTs, including UNESCO and UNCTAD.
The World Summit on the Information Society review process (WSIS +10), which takes place in 2015, will be a crucial milestone. In preparation, ecumenical organisations need to develop alternative discourses aimed at strengthening communitarian and democratic approaches that support people's movements and initiatives; building on non regulated, participatory elements of information and communication technologies; and targeting social media and digital platforms that link networks across national, social and cultural divides.
The centrality of communication rights is undisputed. They claim spaces and resources in the public sphere for all to be able to engage in transparent, informed and democratic debate; unfettered access to the information and knowledge essential to democracy, empowerment, responsible citizenship and mutual accountability; and insist on the need to ensure a diversity of cultural identities that together enhance and enrich the common good.