A rights-based approach to alternative media

The need to move towards a rights-based approach to local and alternative media was a major theme at the second World Forum of Free Media, which took place June 16th and 17th, in parallel to the Rio+20 UN summit on sustainable development. Focusing primarily on the right to information and freedom of expression, several participants highlighted the opportunity for a rights-based approach, which could provide impetus for states to recognise independent information and communication technology as a vital tool for democracy.

With mass media dominated by only a handful of large corporations, the voices of Indigenous and local communities are not represented. Alternative media provides an opportunity for individuals to exercise their right to access information relevant to their lives and to share their knowledge and perspectives in a safe and inclusive space. One forum panelist, speaking on the potential for civic participation through media in Mozambique, suggested that many people are unaware of their own role in governance processes and in the production of information, not just the consumption of it.

Sharing experiences and knowledge, another panelist spoke about the development of Observatorio Ciudadano, an online platform to research, report and monitor human rights violations that affect local communities, emphasizing on collective rights. The platform also enables the production of content by local communities, particularly Indigenous groups. Through training and leadership development, the platform provides an important space for citizens’ voices. Alymana Bathily, Africa coordinator for AMARC, spoke about the practical implications of a stronger media to improve access to information and described the opportunity for monitoring of budget allocation at the local level, allowing community members to engage in policies and structures that affect their daily lives.

Speaking at a panel on the right to communication, Paula Martins from Article 19 emphasized the importance of safeguarding free expression and information rights on the Internet and shared her experience lobbying for these rights at the recent United Nations Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in Brazil.

Several panelists warned of the danger of corporate takeover of traditionally decentralized media, such as online social networks. Open social networks are needed, said one panelist, to ensure autonomy of data.