Since the emergence of the communication rights movements in the 1980s, activists have advanced a vision of the right to communicate as a highly political enterprise. The main idea at the heart of the movement has always been that democratizing media and communication is a way to transform power structures in favour of the public interest and of people and communities whose concerns and stories are rarely seen and heard.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, arguably one of the most challenging crises humanity has faced in recent decades, we have seen just how critical transparent media and communication structures that serve the public interest are. The crisis has made us remember that access to information and communication platforms saves lives and helps keep decision-makers accountable, particularly at a time when important decisions have sometimes been made without public input.
It is also worth remembering, however, that at the root of communication rights, there is a much more human argument. It understands communication as an expression of both our individuality and our need for connectedness, and it invites us all to build community, affirm human solidarity, and foster belonging. And it is precisely in this understanding of communication that true transformational power lies.
During the pandemic, we have seen countless examples of solidarity and citizen efforts to support one another. For example, UNAIDS, the United Nations’ Agency tasked with tackling the development impacts of HIV/AIDS, recently shared a series of examples of solidarity during the Covid-19 lockdowns in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They included a neighbourhood-based initiative that has kept 600 Armenian families from falling into poverty, a Moldovan initiative to provide retroviral drugs to people living with HIV, and a Kyrgyzstani online platform to help local charities coordinate their actions.[i]
WACC’s own research among its community media partners around the world showed that during the pandemic, in addition to using robust journalistic practices to ensure accuracy, and creative ways to address misinformation directly with their listeners and readers, many community media outlets had become critical platforms for people organizing food collection and delivery aimed at those left without an income.
As many parts of the world prepare for a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and as people’s frustration with possible new confinement and lockdown measures grows, we should all remember that the only way out of this crisis is to support one another and practice solidarity. This will necessarily entail moving beyond the expressions of collective support we have seen so far, which have of course helped us get through the first phase of the crisis, and towards citizen-led social movements that enable us to, together, build back a more just, environmentally sustainable, and inclusive world.
And for this to happen, we will need communication platforms and structures that allow connectedness and community building to thrive—a radically different form of communication to today’s market-driven, individualistic, and data-hungry model.
Photo above: Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock