UNESCO and the Press

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UNESCO and the Press: Section copied from the Internet.

Keynote Address by Hon. Gough Whitlam at Media Independence in the Australasian Region conference organised by the Communications Law Centre (University of NSW) with the assistance of the Australian National Commission for Unesco and the support of the Australian Journalists Association University of Sydney (Merewether Building) Saturday, 2 December 1989, 9 a.m.

"Federal Departments are afflicted with a short memory and short vision, and so, too, are editorial offices and academic departments. The first task, therefore, at a seminar like this is to summarize what has been done or attempted on the subject of communication in our region and the world. The UN and its specialised agencies may have had their work cut out in their first decade in overcoming the ravages of World War II. Since then one of their main tasks has been to overcome the inequalities and inequities left behind by the imperial powers.

"South East Asia and the Pacific are the last parts of the world to be decolonised. The region, including Australia, has suffered from inadequate and derivative systems of communication. We had our activities distorted by the imposition of Atlantic aspirations for Britain's role east of Suez and America's role in Indo-China. Australians were too Eurocentric to acknowledge and assert that there was no future for the Netherlands in West New Guinea after 1949 nor for Portugal in East Timor after 1974. More recently, Australian diplomats, academics, proprietors and editors have not prepared Australians for coups in Fiji and riots in Papua New Guinea. The Chirac Government's repression in New Caledonia is the only regional issue on which Australians and all their neighbours have been alert and united.

"I must trace the development of Unesco's role in communication, the Ronald Reagan Administration's assaults on Unesco and the difficulty of the George Herbert Walker Bush Administration and the Hawke Government in undoing the damage done by Reagan.

"In 1975 the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation held a seminar for Journalists from the Third World in New York. A statement was adopted concerning the organization of 'a research and development effort in order to achieve the objectives of the New International Economic Order in the field of information and communication'. Within a few months and specifically at the First Non-Aligned Symposium on Information in March 1976, this request became officially known as the call for a new international information and communication order (NWICO).

"A conference described as the First Intergovernmental Conference on Communication Policies in Asia and Oceania was held at Kuala Lumpur between 5 and 14 February 1979. The meeting adopted the Kuala Lumpur Declaration, which states inter alia:

"A new, more just and more effective world information and communication order, the basis of good neighbourliness, demands in turn an opening to the world. Professional, cultural and scientific collaboration between groups, nations and regions must be a vital element of the order we seek to establish.
"We urge the United Nations system as a whole, and more specifically Unesco, to support these objectives, promote various forms of regional and international cooperation and thus pave the way for a new, more just and more effective world communication and information order which is an integral part of the efforts to achieve a new international economic order.
"We believe that such a new communication and information order would be one of the most vivid contemporary manifestations of the ideals of justice, independence and equality between men and nation ...

"The Conference was attended by representatives of 23 Member States of Unesco in the region and by observers from eight Member States in other regions - Belgium, France, FRG, GDR, Sweden, UK, USA and Venezuela.

"At its 20th session, held in October and November 1978, the General Conference of Unesco had received an Interim Report from the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (MacBride Commission) established under the chairmanship of Sean MacBride by the Director-General, Mr M'Bow, pursuant to the instructions of the 19th session. On the proposal of the delegation of the United States of America, the General Conference unanimously invited the Director-General, Mr M'Bow, to convene 'a planning meeting of representatives of governments, to develop a proposal for institutional arrangements to systematize collaborative consultation on communication development activities, needs and plans'.

"Following the appropriate consultations, and, in particular, the holding in Washington in 1979, at the invitation of the Government of the United States, of a preparatory meeting of a group of experts brought together by Unesco, the Director-General convened in Paris, in April 1980, the Intergovernmental Conference for Co-operation on Activities, Needs and Programmes for Communication Development. This Conference adopted, after thorough discussions and by consensus, a recommendation for the establishment of an International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

"That recommendation was approved by consensus by the General Conference of Unesco at its 21st session, held in Belgrade in September and October 1980. According to the terms of the resolution, the aims of the International Programme are 'to increase co-operation and assistance for the development of communication infrastructures and to reduce the gap between various countries in the communication field'. The same resolution set forth the objectives, competence and measures necessary for the effective functioning of the Programme. These measures included the establishment of the Intergovernmental Council, which is defined as a co-ordinating body with the task of implementing the Programme's objectives, and the adoption of the Council's Statutes.

"On 16 December 1980 the 35th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted without vote a resolution expressing its satisfaction at the establishment within Unesco of the IPDC. In December 1981 the 36th session divided its resolution on questions relating to information into two parts, one dealing specifically with Unesco and IPDC and the other with overall UN policies and activities. It was decided without a vote that Resolution No.1 adopted by the Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC at its First Session, held in Paris from 15 to 22 June 1981, constituted an important step in the implementation of the Program. In December 1982 and 1983 the General Assembly resolved without a vote that 'the IPDC represents a significant step towards the establishment of a NWICO [new world information and communication order] and welcomes the decisions taken by the Intergovernmental Council of the Program at its last sessions'.

"Thus the IPDC got off to a good start with the unanimous blessing of both the UN General Assembly and the Unesco General Conference. USA was among the Member States elected by the General Conference at its 21st session (1980) to be members of the Intergovernmental Council till the end of the 23rd session. It attended the first four sessions of the Council (June 1981, January 1982, December 1982 and September 1983). UK was an observer at all these sessions and Australia at the first, third and fourth sessions. The Fraser Government did not offer direct assistance to the IPDC but in 1982 offered $200,000 to help to establish the Pacific Regional News Service (PRNS), it being suggested that IPDC might possibly fund that part of the project that would not be covered by Australia; Australia's offer was not taken up because the other Pacific States were wary of domination by Radio Australia.

"In USA, however, the NWICO in all its aspects, including the IPDC, was becoming part of the demonology conjured up by right wing elements behind President Reagan. American influence had not been as strong as it should have been in Unesco and the other specialised agencies because of the predilection of successive Administrations to use appointments as part of a spoils system and honours system; Americans who have been permanent delegates enjoy the title of ambassador for the rest of their lives, however short their terms. In the 11 years before USA withdrew from Unesco, seven permanent delegates had been appointed to the Executive Board, where terms are nominally for four years. There can nevertheless be no doubt about the harm which Unesco suffered at the hands of Reagan appointees and their hangers-on in late 1983.

"If we are to exorcise demons, we must understand how they were born and nurtured. One of Unesco's constitutional functions is to 'collaborate in the work of advancing the mutual knowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of mass communication, and to that end recommend such international agreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image'. Some US authors, entrepreneurs and officials had come to assert that Unesco was seeking international agreements to license journalists and censor the press. They were well aware of the benefits of standard-setting instruments; no nation has given such prompt and whole-hearted support as USA to Unesco's 10 copyright and neighbouring rights conventions.

"In the whole field of communication, however, USA spurns Unesco while embracing it. US authors, entrepreneurs and officials who continue to assert that Unesco aims to license journalists and censor the press know how Unesco regulates the field of communication. They should acknowledge that in four decades Unesco has made no plans and spent not a cent to further the forms of regulation which they denounce.

"At the Unesco General Conference in November 1983 it was unanimously resolved to clarify the concept of NWICO by adding the words 'seen as an evolving and continuous process'. On 15 December the UN General Assembly again adopted without a vote the part of the information resolution touching IPDC. The Reagan Administration, however, was marshalling the forces against UN information activities. The part of the resolution dealing with them had been opposed in 1981 by USA and Israel and 1982 by USA, with Israel abstaining. In 1983 it was opposed by FRG, Israel, UK and USA, with Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Netherlands and USA abstaining.

"At the end of December 1983 USA gave notice of withdrawal from Unesco with effect from 31 December 1984. In May 1984 USA made its last appearance as a member of the IPDC Council and UK made its last appearance as an observer. At the UN General Assembly in December 1984 the Reagan Administration mustered opposition to both parts of the information resolution. Both parts were opposed by FRG, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, UK and USA. On the IPDC part Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden abstained. On the other part Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Luxembourg and New Zealand abstained. At the end of December 1984 UK gave notice of withdrawal from Unesco with effect from 31 December 1985."

See remainder of article for evaluation of Australian position.

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