For about two decades now, there has been a very lively and often acrimonious debate on the questions of ‘free and balanced flow of information’, Freedom of the Press, the right to sources of news, the right to know, the right to privacy, protection against exploitation via media, distor¬tion, bias and misinformation, selective exposure and so on. The Third World’s demand for a New World Information and Communication Order has emerged from this debate.
The western countries’ argu¬ments on the other hand centred round concepts of Freedom of the Press, restric¬tions on the movement of journalists in ;he name of protection of their limbs, plurality of sources, objecti¬vity and accuracy. Their strongest charge against the media of the developing coun¬tries has been that most of these countries have autho¬ritarian governments, which often indulge in propaganda and have scanty regard Tor well established professional codes.
But why should there be so much of passion, acrimony and diplomatic manoeuvring over questions of use and abuse of media, which have for long been treated as instru¬ments of public education and entertainment? The answer is; the media aided with the prolific electronic audio¬visual technology have become so powerful an instrument, particularly in the hands of the mighty and the rich to whom primarily this is avail¬able, that it can do incalcul¬able harm to humanity even as it is capable of doing immense good to it by raising the awareness of the people and circulating information useful to society.
Do we then simply look at this mighty instrument with awe or admiration and allow human destiny to be regulated by a few to suit their selfish national interests, often at the high cost of the rest of the world or do we evolve and consciously accept certain self-regulatory codes of con¬duct in order to make this potent weapon contained and used for the maximum welfare of the majority? Are the mediamen, media managers and media promoters infallible individually? Even at the col¬lective level can the media of the world ensure prevention or violation of healthy and esta¬blished, codes of conduct or guarantee the use of this mega-power always for human wel¬fare?
In the mediamen’s concern for prevention of abuse of the mighty media for destructive; or negative social purposes, specially, in a world of uneven media power, men have evolv¬ed various legal, constitutional and ethical principles and codes for self-restraint.
The unanimous adoption of the ‘Declaration on Funda¬mental Principles concerning the contribution of Mass Media to strengthening Peace and International Understand¬ing, to the Promotion of Human Rights and to counter¬ing Racialism, Apartheid and Incitement to War’ at the UNESCO General Conference in November, 1978 without a single dissenting vote reflects this human concern.
Kaarle Nordenstreng, the internationally known com¬munication expert, Professor of Journalism and Mass Com¬munication, University of Tempere, Finland and Presi¬dent of the International Orga¬nization of Journalists and his co-author, Lauri Hannikainen, give in this book a thrilling account of the forces and interests that played and counter-played, the behind-the-scene and on-stage nego¬tiations, diplomatic manoeuvr¬ing and brinkmanship within and outside UNESCO and the UN General Assembly, seman¬tic jugglery and ideological offensives from mediamen of different camps before the ‘Controversial Draft Declara¬tion’ became an unanimously accepted one.
So, Kaarle Nordengstreng writes in the preface to his book:
It is indeed remarkable that an agreement could be found upon such ‘body of principles and ideals’ at a time when ideological con¬frontations, rather than harmony; became char¬acteristic of the international community … ‘Politically, it was a triumph of ‘detente’, peaceful co¬existence between different social systems —so called East and West, North and South. Professionally, it was a reminder of the fact that journalism and mass communication, however ideological in nature, has a common ground of universal values on which an inter¬national code of ethics can be constructed.’
The book, in three parts, reveals the historical and diplomatic significance of the Mass Media Declaration of UNESCO of 1978 and at the same time deals with the special significance of the Declaration from the point of view of professional training, professional ethics, and under¬standing for lifelong education of journalists.
The book, thus, is a unique human documentary based on extensive research on the ‘great debate.’ It is a very well-documented volume by the author, who is renowned for earlier similar research efforts like the one on global imbal¬ance on television programme flow, published under the auspices of UNESCO.
The unique distinction of the book on such a specialized sub¬ject has been made so lucid to read and understand.
The first part of the book entitled ‘The Declaration’ deals with the socio-political scene in which the Declaration emerges and within which its formulation took place in the ’70s. The second part deals with development of an ‘Inter¬national Law of Communic¬ations’ that followed the Declaration. The chapters in this section contain a compre¬hensive overview of inter¬national standards concerned with the performance of the mass media. The third part deals with professional codes and ethics of journalism in relationship to social welfare.
The book should be an invalu¬able reading not only for those who are engaged in communic¬ation research but also for all those who in various capaci¬ties have to deal with the mass media and their multi-dim¬ensional identity and applic¬ation. It is a book which journalists, broadcasters, diplomats, education planners, professors of journalism and politicians should all find interesting and must read to understand the importance of modern communication in its true dimension and perspective and its relevance to our inter-dependent societies and the human family at large.
P.K. Bandyopadhyay formerly of the Central Information Service is now with the Press Trust of India looking after conferences. Secretary General of OANA.