Public history

Media Technologies for a Better World: UNESCO’s Ethical Framework for Communication Infrastructures and Uses of Media after the Second World War

The paper looks at a global, non-commercial organization that not only steered worldwide innovation in communication infrastructure but also made efforts to define ethical standards for media use and mass communication. Established after the Second World War, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) ran campaigns in the late 1940s to remove information barriers and foster the free flow of information throughout the world. Against a backdrop of emerging conflicts between East and West, North and South, UNESCO promoted the free and global spread of ideas “by word and image,” by developing its press, broadcasting and film services, advocating for the improvement of technological infrastructures (e.g. the worldwide allocation of high frequencies), helping to remove economic obstacles to global trade in news and other media (e.g. by advocating for tariff reductions on educational, scientific and cultural materials), and renegotiating telephone regulations. While critics accused UNESCO of using its media policies to promote Western values and ideas during the Cold War, UNESCO saw its role in the context of the fight for human rights, especially the right to freedom of information and the right to education. UNESCO thus mobilized mass communication policies in the service of what the organization defined as an egalitarian vision that was intended to become a major wellspring of innovation.

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