Reconstruction 5.2 (Spring 2005)

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Who Owns the Medium Owns the Message? The Ambiguity of the Right to Communicate in the Age of Convergence / Aliaa Ibrahim Dakroury

Abstract: In her essay on “The Ambiguity of the Right to Communicate in the Age of Convergence”, Aliaa Dakroury frames the issue mediation in terms of media ownership and control. The question asked in the title – “Who Owns the Medium Owns the Message?” – in its rhetorical rather than literal form, indicates the skepticism with which Dakroury approaches too narrow a vision of determination. In the terms of his case study, this means questioning the apparent incommensurability of the economic convergence of multi-national media conglomerates and the right to communicate. To do so, Dakroury offers substantial analyses of both the philosophical/judicial history of the right to communicate as a basic human right and the economic/regulative developments underlying the recent trend towards convergence in the media. Dakroury follows these theoretical explorations with a case study of CanWest Global Communications Corporation, Canada’s fastest growing media conglomerate, and its clashes with the Canadian Journalist’s for Free Expression (CJFE) over alleged infringements of the right to communicate.

Introduction [1]

<1> The problem of media ownership and control and its impact on the right to communicate has long been, and still is, one of the greatest barriers to the enjoyment of this right, and constitutes one of the important arguments against its universality in practice. This was Jean d’Arcy’s [2] argument over two decades ago when complaints and problems arose due to media ownership and monopolies in the communication industry. As he pointed out, “any power, religious, political or private, always knew that control over communication meant control over society. One of the titles of Caesar was ‘Pontifex Maximus,’ the builder of bridges. Control of bridges gives control of roads and thus communications” (1977b, p. 49). In another study highlighting the impact of the many levels of “powers” that can dominate and control the right of people to communicate freely, d’Arcy says clearly“that he who controls communications effectively controls society” (1977a, p. 2). What would d’Arcy have to say today about conglomerate media ownership as one of the basic impediments to the universal practice of a right to communicate?

<2> Initially, the relationship between the field of communications and democracy can be effectively seen through the study of telecommunications (as one of the communication media) in recent years, particularly in the period since the rise of modern technologies, such as computers, satellites, cable television, and the internet as examples. Nevertheless, communication technologies cannot be separated from the socio-economic realm in which they operate, where democracy flourishes and maintains the development of technology and economics on the one hand, and, on the other, serves the public interest and supports related issues such as the debate over the right to communicate, freedom of speech and expression, the right to know, universal access, etc. One of the recent trends in the field of telecommunications, in Western societies in particular, is that of “convergence” between media and communication corporations; Parsons & Frieden (1998) note that convergence incorporates three distinct dimensions: technological, regulatory and business. In the first dimension, new technologies have been developed and combined in recent years to the extent that the distinction between different kinds of media is no longer clearly defined. In the second dimension, these new technological aspects need to be controlled by new or updated telecommunication regulations and laws. In the third and final dimension, the impact of these technologies and regulations on the market has resulted in more mergers and acquisitions in the field of information and communication technologies (1998, pp. 11-12).

<3> It is therefore not surprising that the ideal model for an information flow which enables people to enjoy their right to communicate is threatened and in some ways even denied. In trying to map the ambiguity of a human right to communicate in the age of convergence, this paper will start first by introducing the concept of a "right to communicate" and its historical background. Following that, it will assess the issue of media ownership in the age of convergence, arguing that this problem could represent a real threat to the human right to communicate by using the example of one of the famous mergers in the twentieth century: the marriage between AOL and Time Warner.  

What is the Right to Communicate?

<4> Many scholars argue that the concept of the right to communicate (RTC) is the legal child of the twentieth century’s various languages and legislations starting from the Post World War II period. They consider Article (19) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in December 1948, as the first launching of that concept, in which it is stated that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Thus, it is evident that this article affirmed not only an individual freedom of expression but also a collective right that requires cooperation between human beings for it to be practiced in real life. This includes the right to send, receive, and impart any kind of information, ideas, and thoughts using any type of media without any barriers. It was then included, with slightly altered wording to emphasize the right of humans to choose their medium of information, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1966, which entered into force ten years later, i.e.,:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; the right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

There is a notable difference in the wording of this article, eighteen years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: many new technologies emerged in the post-WWII era in the world of communications, and “any other media of his choice” implies the future developments in this area [3]. From a communication standpoint, this covenant “receives greater weight than the . . . declaration, especially because [it] introduces essential specification to the freedom of information concept as understood in the Universal Declaration” (Nordenstreng & Hannikainen, 1984, p. 134).

<5> However, the “right to communicate” was not clearly realized in real life until a renewed debate was sparked by Jean d’Arcy’s 1969 article “Direct broadcast satellites and the right to communicate” in the European Broadcasting Union Review, where he claimed that [4]:

The time will come when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will have to encompass a more extensive right than man’s right to information, first laid down twenty-one years ago in Article 19. This is the right of man to communicate. This is the angle from which the future development of communications will have to be considered if it is to be fully understood. (1977a, p. 1)

However, as I have argued elsewhere [5], the RTC is not a recent concept, but rather, one that is rooted in the ideas of certain thinkers of the Age of Reason beginning in the seventeenth century, such as John Milton, John Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Jeremy Bentham, and John Stuart Mill; I suggest that the RTC begins with the work of the 17th century English writer and poet John Milton (1608-1674). In his speech addressed to the English Parliament, Milton defended several types of freedoms and liberties that combine a possible right to communicate; he said in his landmark Areopagitica:

If it be desired to know the immediate cause of all this free writing and free speaking . . . it is liberty, Lords and Commons. . . liberty which is the nurse of all great wits; this is that which hath rarefied and enlightened our spirits like the influence of heaven. . . give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. (1644, reprinted 1951, pp. 48-49)

Many human rights theorists and thinkers believe that John Locke’s work constitutes the foundation of the modern conception of human rights. Central to his philosophy is the concept of “freedom”; the main focus of any discussion of human rights, that every human being is free to act reasonably according to his own will and belief. Included here is an adept example Locke’s perception of the concept:

Freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that, in the state of society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth, must be supposed to design to take away from them every thing else. (Two Treatises of Government 1690, reprinted 1940, p. 463)

Voltaire (1694-1778) is also considered to be one of the greatest advocates for an absolute right to communicate, evident in one of his famous dialogues “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Finally, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) argued for the freedom of thought as an inseparable human right, and at the same time promotes the importance of individuality, emphasizing the treatment of one’s opinion as one’s own “personal property”. This apparently unlimited freedom is not, in fact, the freedom to express “heretical” statements and opinions; rather, Mill suggests that freedom of thought and opinion could be channeled into the well-being of society as a whole through the individual ability to criticize the “corrupt” government.

<6> Furthermore,  the legal language of eighteenth-century philosophy, the Virginia Declaration, June 12, 1776, the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, and the American Bill of Rights, 1789, appear to place great emphasis on freedom through the use of phrases such as ‘by nature free,’ ‘inherent rights,’ ‘enjoyment of life and liberty,’ ‘no men be deprived of this liberty,’ ‘unalienable right,’ and ‘pursuit of happiness.’ For example, Article 1 of the Virginia Declaration stated:

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life, liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Even if historically the American Revolution precedes the French, many scholars argue that, in many ways, the French Revolution represented a more radical social change than the American, especially for the realization of the ideals of democracy and freedom as well as for the realization of the right to communicate and its embodied freedoms of speech, expression and so on. This idea may be due to the radical changes effected by the French Revolution on the beliefs, structures, and policies of society. The Declarations spawned by the American Revolution are conceived as extensions of the Magna Carta and the English Bills of rights; as a former British colony, America’s main aim in the Revolution was independence from British sovereignty. However, La Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, or the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) was undeniably a turning point – especially in the history of the idea of treating communication as a basic human right – as it synthesized from the Enlightenment thinkers the concepts of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “fraternity” in expressing opinions and attitudes. It was the first formal realization of the right to “unrestrained” communication as a “sacred” right of human beings. In addition, the Declaration formally states in Article 11 the importance of an “unrestrained” and “free” communication for every man and citizen. It also mentioned different formats of communication (opinions and attitudes, etc.) and different media (speaking, writing, etc.):

The unrestrained communication of thoughts and opinions being one of the most precious rights of man, every citizen may speak, write, and publish freely, provided he is responsible for the abuse of this liberty, in cases determined by the law.

Who Owns the Medium, Owns the Message!

<7> Having introduced the concept of the RTC and its close interconnection with the study of telecommunication and media studies, it would be useful to analyze in this section the impact of media ownership on the RTC, and how it could be a real threat of the humans’ enjoyment of this right.

<8> If we consider the famous phrase of Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message,” an important question arises in this context: “Does the one who owns and controls the medium control the content as well?” The answer would have to be yes, one can control the messages by owning different and powerful kinds of media, and this could be seen as a form of violation of Article (19). In other words, one could see the problem of conglomerate media ownership as threatening at least the process of sending, receiving, and imparting information, if not more aspects of communication. Jean d’Arcy pinpoints this issue by claiming: “All these are but signs and symptoms veiling a profound revolution, for today we live a revolution of communication . . . the problem of the reception and interpretation of [the] message, is indeed at the heart of our major preoccupation; communication has become our task” (1977b, p. 47).

<9> In order to highlight this point, one should first introduce the various perspectives for and against the concentration of ownership and explore whether it represents a threat to the RTC or not. For example, an in-depth analysis is given in Winseck and Cuthbert’s discussion of the huge impact of international communication policies promoted by different international organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), and of regional policies such as those established by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) (1997, p. 1). These policies in the communications field, according to the authors, have affected the process of communication technology and its relationship with democracy. Here, I will examine some of these effects, especially those related to the WTO and the ITU as examples of the existing international “technical bodies” that affect the issue of media ownership and control, not only in western societies, but in a global sense as well.

<10> These international bodies promote what Parker calls “free-market myth,” and he argues that this idea provides the ideological framework for the governments' policies of privatization. He gives an example of NAFTA in North America, under which information is treated as a “private property” not as a “public good,” and access shifts from “universal access” to the “pay-as-you-go” principle. Hence,  

This myth draws on the image of the costless and perfectly functioning market incorporated in the axioms of basic neoclassical economic theory, and emphasizes the role of competition among profit-maximizing firms in generating an “efficient” allocation of resources in the short run, and rapid technological change and productivity growth in the longer run. (Parker, 1994, pp. 52-53)

For instance, an example of international reaction to the AOL/Time Warner merger on this level is the action taken by the European Commission (EC) prohibiting the new company from merging with EMI, the UK’s leading Music Company. This move was the result of the EC’s fear of AOL/Time Warner domination of the growing European market for online music and software-based music players [6]. A key player in the media convergence issue is the World Trade Organization (WTO) [7], whose role is outlined by Winseck, as being among the most important factors that mapped the field of global telecommunications in the 1990s, along with two other key players--self-regulatory groups and the new systems of private authority. He argues that the WTO, as an international body, could act effectively to establish freedom of expression in media and communication by prohibiting governments from regulating all kinds of media and information services (2001, pp. 1-2). WTO’s basic principles express the same ideology of support for cooperation in global trade: 1) trade without discrimination, 2) equal treatment of foreigners and locals, 3) supporting fair competition, and 4) encouraging development. The WTO’s operations cover a remarkable number of different areas that vary from trade, agriculture, government purchases, food sanitation, and banking, to telecommunications and intellectual rights.

<11> One can derive two major points from this general background of the WTO: first, that WTO principles tend to promote privatization (that is why the WTO is associated with massive investment around the world); and second, as a result of the restraint imposed by technical rules and strong political pressure on the WTO, there is no reference to concepts such as freedom of expression, democracy, or legitimacy in the field of communication, which seems to contradict other international conventions such as UNESCO and UN treaties— for example, Article (19) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This contradiction is what Winseck and Cuthbert refer to in their notion of the “competing principles” of these different organizations, all of whom are international bodies affecting the field of communication and technology. They are, for example, “the ‘free flow of information’ doctrine vs. the ‘free and balanced flow of information’ position, copyright laws vs. the conception of information as a public good, and technological interconnectivity vs. national sovereignty issues” (1997, p.12).

<12> Furthermore, one can see that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is a key participant in two respects. First, as one of the international agencies under the United Nations, the ITU is concerned with regulating international communication technologies. According to Akwule, the ITU considers telecommunications to be “any transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images or sound, or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems” (1992, p. 2). In fact, this inclusion of almost every kind of telecommunications is viewed by many scholars and interest groups as a negative aspect of the ITU's treatment of information technologies. Nevertheless, Hamid Mawlana portrays the ITU’s main roles as planning, setting standards, regulating, and coordinating functions of international telecommunications facilities such telephone, telegraph, broadcasting and data communication (1986, p. 96). Second, as a technical organization, the ITU is encouraging countries all over the world to remove barriers and regulations, which limit convergence in this field on the one hand, and allowing the private sector to participate in ITU activities and committees on the other. 

<13> At this point, after introducing the role of international bodies in promoting media convergence trend on global scale, it is important to highlight their impact on the national level as well. For example, in the United States, the Telecommunications Act signed by the American president in February 1996 is considered as one among the most important policies and legislations in the area of the communications industry that promotes media concentration through both its restructuring of the governmental regulation in the field of information and communication, and in its representation of a new vision of the Telecom market and its effects on media ownership and control. Evidently, prior to the 1996 Act, the different types of media operating in the United States were regulated under the TeleCommunications Act of 1934 and its amendments. During the 1990s, many claims and appeals were made that required reexamination and amendment of the U.S. telecommunications laws, since they were not keeping up with the rapid growth and development of either the modern technologies in the field of communications or the economic growth in the market. In addition, the goals of the new media conglomerates and their interests in expanding their powers, benefits, and sales should be noted. In the end, with the new Act, the conglomerates came out on top; as Alger argues, “in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, although there were some disputes among the organizations on specific points, they got most of the changes they wanted” (1998, p. 198).

<14> We can argue that this Act, for the most part, loosens the regulations and restrictions on media ownership and concentration. Taking radio, as an example, ownership before 1984 was limited to what is called the “7/7 rule”: owners of radio stations could not have more than seven AM and seven FM stations. In 1985 the FCC then adopted the “12/12 rule,” by which ownership of radio stations was up to twelve AM and twelve FM stations. The limits were increased again in 1992 to the “18/18 rule,” and finally, in 1994 to the “20/20 rule.” What is even more remarkable is the removal of all limits on ownership with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the number of mergers that took place in this field (Albarran, 1996, pp. 70-71). Another example is provided by television broadcasting regulations, which, before the Act, limited ownership to 12 stations. The previous numerical cap was eliminated and was replaced by a provision allowing ownership to reach up to, but not more than, 35% of the national audience (Albarran, 1996, p. 83). Finally, in 1996, Herbert Schiller made the following prediction about the future of the telecommunications industry: “If the proposed Telecommunications Reform Act of 1995 is passed, all restrictions on the size of media holdings will be removed” (p. 261). Indeed, his words have proved true, as present-day giant media corporations and media conglomerates attest.

<15> Subsequently, we can now pose the following questions: is media concentration good, or bad? Does it affect the people’s right to communicate or not? And, whether it does so or not, why? In one of their interesting debates, Everette Dennis opposes John Merrill’s critiques of media concentration, arguing that it “ultimately benefits the public” (2002, p. 37, italics in original). Dennis builds his argument on the idea that Western societies are basically capitalist societies, and therefore it is acceptable to have such media concentration. He adds that with the spread of media concentration of ownership, more voices and more choices become available to the public/audience, since media corporations are competing with each other to gain larger audiences. Evidently, he maintains that in tracking the numbers of TV channels, one can see the increase number of channels which he believes to be a sign of “plurality” one the one hand, and a representation of a public “taste” rather than a coercive practice from giant media monopolies. He explains that the issue of media ownership concentration is first an “inevitable” trend, and secondly, a direct outcome of capitalist society, where media are expected to fulfill the users, audiences, and public’s gratifications and are not simply a representation of giant media's “greedy owners”:

We have more media and more media content than ever before in human history. It ranges from bottom feeding supermarket tabloids, TV game and reality shows to highbrow books, magazines, and movies. There is something that appeals to every imaginable taste, though critics complain that many of the mass circulation media, notably television news and drama have been dumbed down to serve a society that seems coarser than it was a few years ago. In other words, the media mostly respond to public taste in order to make a profit. (Dennis & Merrill, 2002, p. 36)

Interestingly, Merrill opposes this perspective by arguing that “Concentration of ownership is dangerous for people and society” (Dennis & Merrill, 2002, 38, italics in original). In his reply, Merrill argues that we cannot deny the fact that media corporations are capitalist institutions however, we cannot claim at the same time that they are advocating for diversity and plurality in opinions in practice which are the core concepts for democracy in society. He adds that with the spread of giant media corporations into local newspaper ownership, statistics show that readers became passive and are not involved in their local issues/matters, newspapers tend to use more advertising to attract the audience, and more importantly, the press itself is “losing a real sense of trust and respect for its contents” (Dennis & Merrill, 2002, pp. 38-9). As for looking to media as only responding to the audience tastes and requests, Merrill argues that this is a one-sided view; he believes that media are both responding to the public but at the same time forming and constructing its choices, and tastes.

<16> In practice, giant media corporations who are vertically and horizontally integrated are playing a key role in shaping the individual, corporate, and specialist choices. Let us return once again, to the AOL/Time Warner example: one can see that this merger impacted on other types of media corporations. In his study Lost in Cyberspace, Dwayne Winseck explains how multimedia owners play a very significant role in either allowing or restricting individuals' uses of the net. He describes this procedure in his notion of the walled garden concept:

The role of content, images and language in creating cybernetically enclosed worlds is also embodied in contracts between AOL/Time Warner and other service providers. For example, AOL's contract with Disney requires Disney to deter users from using Disney's site and related hyperlinks as departure points for larger forays into cyberspace as a condition of being granted entry into the ‘walled garden.’ Indeed, in this story of the ‘magic kingdom’ meets the ‘walled garden,’ AOL can cancel the agreement if more than 25% of users visiting Disney's site subsequently leave the AOL 'space.' (2002, p. 16)

Furthermore, it is important to mention here the fears of the other media and competitors in reacting to this merger. First, Microsoft, operating both MSN and WebTV, and as one of AOL's competitors, felt threatened by the speed of AOL’s service, which AOL was able to offer through the Time Warner cable system after the merger (Hamm, 2000, p. 46). Second, AT&T, which represented one of the major conditions of the FCC in order to approve the merger, is under pressure now as Time Warner put AT&T in a critical situation when it engaged the “open Access” principle in its cable system, pushing AT&T to do the same, especially with Excite@home, which was favoured by AT&T previously (Rosenbush, 2000, p. 46). Third, Yahoo, which enjoyed about 120 million visitors monthly to its site, is threatened now by AOL in the areas of distribution and width in its network (Hof, 2000, p. 46). Finally, Disney, though it is a wide distributor of household collection brand names of Disney, ABC and ESPN, faces noticeable trouble mainly in its stores and home video units, and could face a takeover (Grover, 2000, p. 47).

<17> However, the FCC [8] as a regulator in the AOL/Time Warner case has made great efforts to ensure both that the public enjoys freedom of choice and the Internet Service Provider has a chance to operate despite the existence of such a giant merger between old media and new media. In its conditional approval statement on the AOL/Time Warner merger, the FCC notes that this decision wasn't easy to make, as it demanded a balancing of the interests of the merging giant media corporations, who control two of the most important fields of communication -- cable and internet -- against the need for protection of the public from any kind of domination of the marketplace. The FCC Chairman, William E. Kennard, illustrating the reasons for the FCC's concerns about the merger, says that they are basically driven by the issue of consumer protection: “The conditions we impose today are forward-looking and fair. They preserve the openness of the Internet. They protect consumers and avoid heavy-handed regulation by using a narrowly-tailored market opening approach. And they ensure that neither AOL Time Warner nor a government agency will pick winners and losers in this dynamic marketplace” (See: The statement of FCC represents a protection of media’ users right to communicate freely even with the existence of the giant media mergers that own different kind of media vertically, and horizontally.

<18> Specifically, the FCC's three main concerns were the future of instant messaging, the ability of competing broadband ISPs to access Time Warner cable systems, and potential discrimination in the interactive television space. Accordingly, the FCC imposed four main conditions on the merger. The first, addressing instant messaging, requires AOL/Time Warner to cooperate with competing instant messaging providers before it can offer videoconferencing and other types of streaming video over instant messaging. The second concentrates on Internet access; under this condition, Time Warner must guarantee that at least three rival internet high-speed broadband providers other than AOL have full access to its systems, and are given full control of billing arrangements. The third deals with AOL/Time Warner's relationship with AT&T: the FCC holds AT&T to its commitment to give up/abandon its interest in Time Warner entertainment. The fourth condition concerns the future need for FCC involvement in promoting competition in interactive television service [9].

<19> Despite the FCC’s efforts, it still comes under heavy criticism: Price & Weinberg argue that the FCC encourages ownership of radio and television stations controlled by minority groups, which can be seen as encouraging a certain type of monopoly: “The commission gave an advantage in comparative hearings to minority would-be licensees, so long as they promised to participate actively in station management; it gave other licensees facing possible revocation or non-renewal an incentive to transfer their licenses to minority owners; and it established a tax certificate programme granting favourable tax treatment to any broadcaster selling its station to a minority owner” (1996, p. 271). However, in defending the FCC Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  and acknowledging its role in the field of information and technology, Bonnett (1996) says that due to the different information pathways that enter our homes--i.e., satellite, broadcast, cable, telephone, and packaged media (such as cassette, CDs, and print)--the FCC's role has become difficult and complex as it tries to serve the general public interest by regulating some of these paths on the one hand, and creating a standpoint between the public and private domains, and competition and monopoly on the other (p. 28).

A Final Thought

<20> From the foregoing discussion of the history and importance of the principle of the  right to communicate on the one hand, and the growing media powers in recent years on the other, one can see how media ownership in the age of convergence is empowering giant media corporations in the telecommunication field to the extent of threatening the enjoyment of people’s right to communicate, as well as combining the right of the audience and the right of journalists and media professionals to practice their freedom of expression. For example, one can find an important example of complaints against the practices of some giant media conglomerates and their interference in editorial policies of their newspapers chains, in the controversy surrounding the Canadian CanWest Global Communications Corporation and its journalists. In 2002, the Canadian Journalist’s for Free Expression (CJFE) [10] issued a warning protesting CanWest Global’s policy of requiring their chain of newspapers to follow definite and prerequisite editorial guidelines, particularly in covering national and international issues. In fact, as one of the human rights watchers and activists in the field of the right to communicate, CJFE has also asserted the right of this giant chain of media conglomerate to operate their corporations the way that matches its policies and regulations. However, it criticized the way CanWest denied the right of their journalists to freedom of thoughts, expression, and communication by firing, dismissing, terminating many of their professionals’ contracts, and canceling many columns whenever they did not follow the company’s rules and codes of operation. This example is one representation of the power relations that dominate the field of telecommunication in the age of convergence.

<21> Moreover, the type of giant media ownership articulated here is vast and interconnected in a series of complex relations that vary from economic and financial relations (owning billions of dollars, controlling thousands of jobs, affecting the national economy) to political relationships (affecting the political system generally and its policies, especially in regard to the telecommunications field, also the contributions in the political campaigns.) Alger (1998) asserts the importance of looking to these giant media as key players in the economic and political realms [11]: “The main media fall increasingly under the control of a small number of giant corporations and extremely wealthy and willful people, especially when such people are inclined to use the powerful media of mass communication for their own political and economic purposes” (p. 2).

<22> Finally, this paper has tried to illustrate how media ownership in the age of convergence answers the key question whether owners of the “media” are not only owning  the messages but are also controlling the production process of the messages through their control of series of media that vary from newspapers chains, television stations, media networks, magazines, book publishing, and radio stations, among others. In addition, they are also promoting their own opinions, ideas, beliefs regardless of the public’s choices and professionals' doctrines by shaping lifestyles, social norms, cultural values, and political images.

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Professor Dwayne Winseck of the School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University, Ottawa-Canada for his sincere recommendations and writing suggestions for this paper.


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[1] This paper has been presented at the International Conference on Intellectual Property Rights, Communication and the Public Domain in the Asia-Pacific Region, 14-17 December 2004, Brisbane, Australia under the title of “Marriage of old and new media: An assessment of media ownership and control of in the age of convergence”. [^]

[2] Jean d’Arcy was the Director of Radio and Visual Services during the 1960s in the Office of Public Information at the United Nations in New York. President of the International Institute of Communications until his death in the1980s, he was among the greatest advocates for the right to communicate. [^]

[3] It is often argued that the two Covenants—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—are two important international documents that complete the recognition of basic human rights. Their advantage lies in their statement of procedures for reporting and enforcing on human rights’ status. [^]

[4] It is worth noting here that although Richstad, Harms, & Kie argue that he “did not specify in detail what he meant by the Right to Communicate, . . . [his article] inspired others to attempt formulations over the following years” (1977, p. 114). [^]

[5] Dakroury, Aliaa. (2003). Is communication a basic human right? An intellectual history. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa. [^]

[6] For more details, see: /hi/english/ business/newsid_1113000/1113492.stm) [^]

[7] The World Trade Organization (WTO) was created in 1995 and can be seen as the offspring of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was founded after WWII. The basic aim in establishing the WTO was to promote a system of global trade, and its main functions, defined as follows, support this endeavour: 1) supervising WTO trade agreements; 2) acting as a forum for trade negotiations; 3) tracking national trade policies, 4) handling trade disputes; 5) aiding technology transfer and training for developing countries; and 6) cooperating with other international organizations(See: _e/whatis_e/inbrief_e/inbr00_e.htm). [^]

[8] Like the FCC's position on and concerns about the AOL/Time Warner merger, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s concerns were mainly concentrated on ensuring access for other internet providers and subscriber access via telephone lines. Thus the FTC insists that other broadband operators receive the same propriety and quality of services as those provided by Time Warner Cable to AOL; and that AOL must offers its subscribers high-speed internet access via telephone lines (known as digital subscriber lines “DSL”) as well as through Time Warner Cable systems. At the same time, AOL/Time Warner is prevented from entering into other arrangements with other cable companies with respect to ISP services or interactive TV services. FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky says of the significance of these restrictions on AOL/Time Warner: “Our concern was that the merger of these two powerful companies would deny to competitors access to this amazing new broadband technology”; and he adds, “This order is intended to ensure that this new medium, characterized by openness, diversity and freedom, will not be closed down as a result of this merger” (See: [^]

[9] For more details, see: ( [^]

[10] For more information about this case, see: ( [^]

[11] For example, an evidence of this entangled relationship is viewed in the AOL/Time Warner contribution with its “America Online Inc. Political Action Committee” & “Time Warner Inc. Political Action Committee” to the Federal Elections by donating large amounts of money in the cycles 1999-2000, 2000-2001, and 2001-2002, as presented by the Federal Election Committee. For more details, see: ( [^]

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