What is the line between protecting and hindering human rights?

The globalization of media threatens human rights and faces the difficulty of being aided by global communication policies with many cultural complexities. The modernizing of society is one of the potentially positive aspects of global communication as it creates a flow of information, and dissolves transnational borders. The constant flow of information for those societies connected is contrasted with a large percentage of people in the world who are without access to technology. This imbalance of access to information is known as the digital divide and creates unequal power distribution between nations. Although the digital divide leaves many people without access to information, freedom of information is stated to be a fundamental human right (Article 19 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948).
Some of the negative aspects of global communication on a mass scale include censorship and government regulation. For those who can access the flow of information, the question then becomes: who gets to create the content available for consumption? Who should regulate the content available and when does this regulation become censorship? Further issues with global communication include surveillance culture, conglomerates in media ownership, copyright issues and freedom of information flows (Hamelink 2015). These issues affect society as a whole, infringe on laws and threaten human rights, bringing forth an argument that these issues should be diminished by implementing comprehensive policies to protect human rights. The creation of policies in the context of global communication involves the participation of government within the sphere of the media. With the liberalist desire for media to be free of state control, (Hamelink 2015) is it even possible to create a global communication policy inspired by human rights while still adhering to the individual rights of people across varying cultures?
Global communication policies in relation to human rights can be described as the “right to be informed, the right to inform, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public communication” (Macbride 1980). In the implementation of a global communication policy inspired by human rights, a power structure needs to be in place to integrate policies. It should be questioned how this infrastructure benefits those in power and hinders the voices of those who are not. “To be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity” (Solnit 2017). By utilizing a hierarchical structure to implement policies, a global communication policy inspired by human rights is nearly impossible because the silencing of voices contradicts the human rights that are meant to inspire policies.
“Global communication is a deeply hierarchical and unequal set of power relations and is embedded in structural relationships that rob many people of their basic fundamental communication rights” (Hamelink 2015). This hierarchical power furthers the issues with dependency theory and media imperialism. An issue of media imperialism that arose from wanting to implement internet access in developing cultures was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2016 “beaming of free internet” into Africa (Africa Research Bulletin 2015).
Zuckerberg infers that the inspiration for the project was inspired by the human right to communication by stating that he was “going to keep working to connect the entire world” (Zuckerberg 2016). The issue with wanting to provide internet to areas without access is that the companies who have the power to provide this infrastructure, like Facebook, are western organizations. Programs that provide “technological assistance” threaten “cultural sovereignty” as the globalization of media whitewashes cultures (Hamelink 2015). Western control of power as seen through the example of Facebook is representative of the hierarchical issues that come with developing a global communication policy.
Further issues with westernized ownership of media in relation to a global communication policy inspired by human rights, is Facebook’s ‘free basics’ program that provides South Africa and Pakistan with free internet (Sen 2016). The program is implemented to seemingly ‘patch the digital divide’ but only offers certain elected access, boosting participation on Facebook for free and charging for other platforms (Sen 2016). This service makes Facebook a conglomerate of media control, censoring information for those who don’t have the funds to pay for further access than what is offered.
A major concern of policymakers is the censorship issue involved in global communication (Hamelink 2015). The line between censoring information to shield the public from hate speech or to allow for free speech poses controversy (Hamelink 2015). Despite wanting to shield communities from hateful language, hate speech is largely “ungovernable” (Ganesh 2018). Ganesh states the issues with governing hate culture online include the “decentralized structure, its ability to quickly navigate and migrate across websites, and its use of coded language to flout law and regulation” (Ganesh 2018). Online networks are fluid and hard to govern thereby creating difficulty in the creation of global communication policy.
Successful integration and implementation of a global communication policy inspired by human rights face many challenges such as: hierarchical structures in policymaking, western media dominance, and westernized aid, as well as the overall uncontrollable nature of the Internet. The hierarchical structure of policymakers creates inequality in determining whose voices are heard and whose are left out. Policies to mend the digital divide have complexities about what type of organizations have the power to provide aid. Facebook’s beaming of free internet illustrates problems with westernized aid. A global communication policy with the goal to help bridge the digital divide needs to emphasize the involvement of media outlets from local areas to protect cultural sovereignty. The difficulties inherent in governing online communities are seen as a major issue in global communication policy integration. The implementation of a global communication policy inspired by human rights may not be impossible but will need time to successfully develop to consider the impact on cultural autonomy and independence.

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