The MacBride Commission

The MacBride Commission

The International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems that was established under the chairmanship of Sean MacBride by UNESCO occupies a prominent place in the debate regarding the establishment of a NWICO. The Commission report, commonly known as the MacBride Report, gave intellectual justification for evolving a new global communication order. For this reason the NWICO protagonists considered it to be a seminal document. The Commission was created in 1977 as a direct response to Resolution 100 of the 19th General Session of UNESCO held in Nairobi in 1976. The Commission took two years after going through one hundred working papers especially commissioned for it, to bring out one interim and a final report in 1980.
The Commission had the following 16 members: Sean MacBride, chairman (Ireland), Elie Abel (USA), Hubert Beuve-Mery (France), Elebe Ma Ekonzo (Zaire), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbia), Mochtar Lubis (Indonesia), Mustapha Masmoudi (Tunisia), Betty Zimmerman (Canada), Michio Nagai (Japan), Fred Isaac Akporuaro Omu (Nigeria), Bogdan Osolnik (Yugoslavia), Gamal el Oteifi (Egypt), Johannes Pietar Pronk (the Netherlands), Juan Somavia (Chile), Boobli George Verghese (India), and Leonid Zamatin (USSR) (Zamatin was replaced by Sergei Losev during the study).
The Commission was established to study four main aspects of global communication: the current state of world communication; the problems surrounding a free and balanced flow of information and how the needs of the developing countries link with the flow; how, in light of the NIEO, a NWICO could be created, and how the media could become the vehicle for educating public opinion about world problems.
The interim report generated a good deal of controversy as it tended to legitimize the movement towards the establishment of a NWICO. It levelled charges against the Western wire services for their inadequate coverage of the Third World. The 100 background papers that the Commission prepared generated international interest in NWICO and helped provide insights into the various dimensions of the problems of global information system. This enriched the debate and raised its standard from mere rhetoric to more sophisticated criticism of international inequity in media relations.
Among its 82 recommendations that covered the entire gamut of global communication issues, the most innovative were those dealing with democratization of communication (MacBride Report, 1980: 191-233). The Commission agreed that democratization was impeded by undemocratic political systems, bureaucratic administrative systems, technologies controlled or understood only by a few, the exclusion of disadvantaged groups, and illiteracy and semi-literacy. To break through these barriers, the Commission recommended many steps, including:
participation in media management by representatives of the public and various citizens groups, horizontal communication, counter-information and three forms of alternative communication:
radical opposition, community or local media movements and trade unions or other social groups with their particular communication networks.
Following the UNESCO definition of ‘a free flow and a wider and more balanced dissemination of information’, the MacBride Report related freedom of the press to freedom of expression, to the rights to communicate and receive information, rights of reply and correction, and the civil political economic-social-cultural rights set forth in the UN’s 1966 covenants. The MacBride Report pointed out that the freedom for the ‘strong’ and the ‘haves’ had had undesirable consequences for the ‘weak’ and the ‘have nots’. It called for abolition of ‘censorship or arbitrary control of information’ asking for ‘self-censorship by communicators themselves’. The report was critical of the constraints imposed by commercialization, pressures from advertisers and concentration of media ownership. It related the growth of transnational corporations to ‘one way flow’, ‘market dominance’ and ‘vertical flow’.
It pointed out that some of the strongest transnational corporations, while vociferous for freedom for themselves, were reluctant to open up flows to share scientific and technological information. The Commission charged that under the guise of the free flow of information, some governments and transnational media had ‘on occasion tried to undermine internal stability in other countries, violating their sovereignty and disturbed national development’.
The MacBride Report, which was hailed as ‘the first international document that provides a really global view on the world’s communication problems’, received a mixed response. The protagonists of NWICO generally welcomed the report while the West criticized it. The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), consisting of journalistic organizations, including the International Federation of Journalists, AP, UPI and the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA), was critical of what it considered to be the report’s bias against private ownership of media and communication facilities and the ‘problems created in a society by advertising’ (Singh and Gross, 1981).
Following the submission of the report of the MacBride Commission, at the 21st General Conference Session of UNESCO held in Belgrade in 1980,a resolution for the attainment of a NWICO was passed, thereby formally
approving the demand. The resolution proposed:
(i) elimination of the imbalance and inequalities which characterise the present situation;
(ii) elimination of the negative effects of certain monopolists, public or private, and excessive concentrations;
(iii) removal of the internal and external obstacles to a free flow and wider and better balanced dissemination of information and ideas;
(iv) plurality of sources and channels of information;
(v) freedom of the press and information;
(vi) the freedom of journalists and all professionals in the communication media, a freedom inseparable from responsibility;
(vii) the capacity of developing countries to achieve improvement of their own situations, notably by providing their own equipment, by training their personnel, by improving their infrastructures and by making their information and communication media suitable to their needs and aspirations;
(viii) the sincere will of developed countries to help them attain these objectives;
(ix) respect for each people’s cultural identity and for the rights of
each nation to inform the world public about its interests, its aspirations and its social and cultural values;
(x) respect for the right of all peoples to participate in international
exchange of information on the basis of equality, justice and mutual benefit;
(xi) respect for the right of the public, of ethnic and social groups and of individuals to have access to information sources and to participate actively in the communication process.
(UNESCO, 1980)

You may also like