Investigating Evolving Discourses On Human Rights in the Digital Age: Emerging Norms and Policy Challenges

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Investigating Evolving Discourses On Human Rights in the Digital Age: Emerging Norms and Policy Challenges
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    1 International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR); Annual congress on «Human Rights and Communication»; Mexico City 21-24 July 2009 Joint Round Table by the Emerging Scholars Network Section and the Global Media Policy Working Group COMMUNICATION AS A HUMAN RIGHT: POLICY CHALLENGES, PUBLIC INTEREST NARRATIVES AND VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE  Investigating evolving discourses on    Human Rights in the Digital Age:   emerging norms and policy challenges 1  Francesca Musiani Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation MINES ParisTech France francesca.musiani@mines-paristech.fr Elena Pavan DSRS University of Trento Italy elena.pavan@soc.unitn.it Claudia Padovani DSSP University of Padova Italy claudia.padovani@unipd.it ABSTRACT In a digital context that is profoundly transforming social interactions in different domains and at different levels, the label “communication rights” (CRs) has emerged in recent years suggesting the need to better articulate the principles and rights pertaining to communication processes in society: principles and rights which should be recognized as guidelines to set normative standards of behavior in such a transformed communicative environment. A plurality of reflections and initiatives have evolved around this concept, many of which stressed the need for a democratization of media systems, discourses and practices in a glocal environment   that is more and more characterized by the diffusion and use of information and communication technologies that can be both democracy enabling - thanks to their potential in fostering transparency, publicity, and participation - but also democracy constraining, if we consider the several challenges posed by the possibility to interfere with and control individual data and personal communications, individual and collective access to information and people’s freedom to express their views and ideas. Yet, the CRs concept remains controversial and further efforts are needed to contribute to a conceptual clarification that is required if such concept and related principles are to inform policy-making processes. We therefore propose a contribution that focuses on evolving discourses concerning fundamental rights and freedoms in communication societies, bringing our different disciplinary perspectives into a dialogue; we look at different settings where the discourse on human rights and communication is being elaborated, and we build on a shared constructivist approach to assess if we are in fact witnessing the emergence of communication rights-related norms in the transnational context. 1   The authors fully share responsibility for the content of this paper, yet each of them has contributed to this collective effort by contributing specific pieces of research: par 2 has been elaborated by Francesca Musiani, par 3 by Claudia Padovani and par 4 by Elena Pavan.      h  a   l  -   0   0   4   4   8   2   3   1 ,  v  e  r  s   i  o  n    1   -   1   8    J  a  n    2   0   1   0 Author manuscript, published in "International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR); Annual congresson "Human Rights and Communication", Mexico : Mexico (2009)"    2 1. INTRODUCTION In a digital context that is profoundly transforming social interactions in different domains and at different levels, the label «communication rights» (CRs) has emerged in recent years suggesting the need to better articulate the principles and rights pertaining to communication processes in society: principles and rights which should be recognized as guidelines to set normative standards of behavior in such a transformed communicative environment. A plurality of reflections and initiatives have evolved around this concept, many of which stressed the need for a democratization of media systems, discourses and practices in an glocal environment   that is more and more characterized by the diffusion and use of information and communication technologies that can be both democracy enabling - thanks to their potential in fostering transparency, publicity, and participation - but also democracy constraining, if we consider the several challenges posed by the possibility to interfere with and control individual data and personal communications, individual and collective access to information and people’s freedom to express their views and ideas. Yet, the CRs concept remains controversial and further efforts are needed to contribute to a conceptual clarification that is required if such concept and related principles are to inform policy-making processes towards agreed-upon normative bases and effective policy provisions for the development of democratic and participatory societies. We therefore propose a contribution that focuses on fundamental rights and freedoms in communication societies, bringing our different disciplinary perspectives into a dialogue that is grounded in the adoption of “human rights in the digital age” (HR in DA) as a master frame (Snow et al. 1986) unifying different strands of thoughts and actions that have developed over time in political interstices between communication and human rights. Furthermore we adopt a constructivist and communicative approach to the study of world politics (Khagram et al 2002; Sikkink 2002; Dryzek 1999, 2005; Risse 2000) that allows us to present different empirical analyses on the content, structure and relevance of evolving discourses  concerning HR in DA in order to critically discuss the possibility to talk about the emergence of communication-and-human-rights-related norms in the transnational context. We conceive discourse as “metaphorically extended from its srcinal roots in interpersonal conversation to the social dialogue which takes place through and across societal institutions, among individuals as well as groups and (…) political institutions themselves” (Donati 1992:138), and yet empircially observable through the analyses of communicative interactions taking place in different specific contexts. These theoretical assumptions are elaborated in the following paragraphs of this introduction alongside introductive remarks on the structure of the paper. 1.1 Human rights in the digital age: research questions  We address the nexus between fundamental rights and communication in knowledge societies in the attempt to clarify the ways in which societal debates about communication transformations intersect with human rights norms and the broader human rights machinery, considered as the very starting point from which to assess the status of rights that pertain to communication in contemporary societies. We hypothesize the discourse on HR in DA to be an evolution of the broader human rights discourse or, better, an “expansion” of such discourse, both in terms of better specifying how existing rights relate to communication processes in a highly mediated digital    h  a   l  -   0   0   4   4   8   2   3   1 ,  v  e  r  s   i  o  n    1   -   1   8    J  a  n    2   0   1   0    3 environment, and in terms of new rights that may be affirmed (following what has been formalized in the past through the proposal of a “right to communicate” 2 ). A focus on how issues that pertain to communicative exchanges in contemporary society are conceptualized and articulated in relation to fundamental rights and freedoms is therefore crucial; thus a first question emerges: what is the current discourse on these issues made of? In investigating HR in DA a second research question is then related to continuity and change in the human rights discourse, as far as communication-related aspects are concerned. On the one hand, we could expect some continuity in language and a consistent framing of issues when communication processes are addressed through the lenses of the human rights discourse. On the other hand, it may also be the case that actors interested in how fundamental rights should be protected in the digital context, express interests, concerns and expectations that are more directly linked to, if not driven by, the evolution of technology and its peculiar features, and therefore stress innovative elements of the digital environment more than a legacy with the human rights discourse. Indeed, it is possible to hypothesize two strands of reflection contributing to the structuring of the discourse and the analytical effort presented in this paper is aimed at examining if and how much each of the two strands contributes to shaping the discourse. Moreover, when addressing challenges posed by communication technologies, we can think of the empowering role of discursive practices and interactions or, in other words, of processes in which different actors are engaged. Understanding what actors participate in the discourse, how they frame communication-related issues and challenges and how they see and perceive each other, also (re)defining their own identities and interests through interactions, may also offer some interesting insights to better understand the potential of discourses to become the bases for recognized norms and to ultimately inform policy processes and orientate actors’ behavior, also through the formation of networks of actors, both institutional and nongovernmental, who may be grounding their activities in existing norms. Finally, we look in different directions – investigating discourses evolving in different settings – in order to assess if the normative aspirations concerning human rights in the digital age are consolidating towards a somehow consistent “normative vision” to be promoted on the global scene or, on the contrary, fragmentation and diversity in the use of language, in framing issues and in identifying challenges to the affirmation of such norms do prevail. These four general questions are differently articulated in each of the paragraphs where empirical investigations are presented and discussed, due to the fact that each piece of research focuses on a different discursive context.  Nevetherless, all analyses share a same concern with the role and relevance of discursive practices in shaping transnational norms, as suggested by the constructivist approach to the study of world politics. 1.2 A constructivist approach  Referring to a constructivist approach that understands social interactions as constitutive of the very meaning actors attach to their own identity and interests in the context and conduct of world politics (Wendt 1992, 1999; Onuf 1989), we suggest it is relevant to trace the evolution of discourses deploying in that context as concrete expressions of such interactions: discourses are , as suggested above, realities that can be investigated - through different methodologies and techniques - in order to assess the cognitive dimension of interactions taking place 2  Da D’arcy ad altri…. Ref biblio      h  a   l  -   0   0   4   4   8   2   3   1 ,  v  e  r  s   i  o  n    1   -   1   8    J  a  n    2   0   1   0    4 in the transnational context and contributing to the framing of issues and their public recognition, also from the side of policy-oriented actors. Discourses are here understood as “shared set of concepts, categories, ideas that provide its adherents with a framework for making sense  of situations, embodying judgments  and  fostering capabilities ” (Dryzek 2005, 8, our italics ). Such inter-subjectively elaborated concepts, categories and ideas, may then turn into more structured provisions, once they are translated into norms, conceptualized as “shared expectations of standards of behavior for actors with a given identity” (Finnemore & Sikkink 1998). Transnational norms become relevant in so far as they are accepted by states and intergovernmental institutions; but they can be elaborated, promoted by and applied to not only governmental actors but also other subjects acting on the international scene, including civil society organizations, advocacy networks, epistemic communities, transnational firms, professional groups. We can therefore think of different actors, individual and collective, operating in different settings at different levels, engaged in the production of social knowledge that pertain to the issues under investigation; hence we focus on some of these settings in order to derive an articulated picture of how communication and human rights related discourses are evolving in the transnational space. In doing this, we refer to Khagram, Riker and Sikkink (2002), who suggest that, in order for discourses to translate into normative frameworks, it is necessary that issues that have been framed through communicative exchanges, are adequately conceptualized   also in relation to other issues and normative provisions, that they are properly articulated and shaped   into statements and that they are  put on the agenda  in more or less formal occasions for interaction. Thus the nexus between discourses and norms appears as a crucial one and constitutes the leading idea underlying this paper: being concerned with fundamental rights and freedom in this new digital environment, by focusing on discursive interactions we aim at clarifying if and to what extent interested actors, not exclusively of governmental nature, have engaged in recent years in a trans-national arguing dynamic around the very issues concerning HR in DA. Furthermore, we aim at assessing if such discourses are leading to the emergence of communication rights specifically related norms. By further discussing the dimensions and the heuristic potential of a discursive approach to the elaboration of norms in the transnational context, below we introduce the sections of this paper, each of which focuses on a specific discursive context and addresses a specific dimensions.  Making sense of situations , or more precisely “the search for meaning”, is the role Khagram, Riker and Sikkink identify for nongovernmental or “third sector actors” engaged in transnational political interactions, in their attempt to “shape the world according to their principles and beliefs” (Khragram et al 2002: 11). The search for meaning – also conducted through issue framing activities - is therefore intrinsically related to principles; most of all it relates to that social knowledge (Brown Thompson 2002) that is brought into the conversation by different actors holding different views, opinions, ideas and expectations. Different actors interacting on the supra-national scene, alongside traditional international actors such as government and intergovernmental organizations, can be nongovernmental organizations, transnational advocacy networks, coalitions, social movements; but they are also epistemic communities whose knowledge “… could provide a common discourse” (Khagram et al 2002: 10) that is central to the sustained efforts of other actors. In the context of this work, looking into efforts of conceptualization is therefore crucial towards a better understanding of how communication-related rights are conceived, perceived and played out in the transnational context, and justifies a focus on how epistemic communities have been contributing to shaping the discourse on HA in DA through their scholarly work. Thus, we have conducted a literature review to assess how issues that pertain to the social construction of communicative exchange and related fundamental rights as an inter-    h  a   l  -   0   0   4   4   8   2   3   1 ,  v  e  r  s   i  o  n    1   -   1   8    J  a  n    2   0   1   0    5 subjective reality are being dealt with in scholarly practice, also as a step towards the elaboration of an analytical framework to help systematize rich but fragemented scholarly reflections on these matters (par. 2).  Embody judgments,  as a second dimension of a discourse on HR in DA, implies reference to the possibility to set standards according to which social behavior can be judged and eventually sanctioned. Especially where there are not clearly defined norms in a subject area, and where non-state actors play an ever-growing role in fostering public understanding of issues and problems (that is certainly the case with communication-related human rights issues), global conversations may in fact contribute to the definition, promotion and adoption of norms (Sikkink 2002). It is therefore relevant to investigate if and how existing discourses pertaining to the respect and enjoyment of human rights in a digitally transformed context, especially those that aim at producing formalized documents and adopt specific linguistic formulas, may ultimately lead to the emergence and consolidation of normative references. We have done this by analyzing ten documents that have been elaborated between 1996 and 2006 by different stakeholders and promoted as constitution-like documents for the digital age through an explicit self-proposing as Charters of civic rights or Bills of Rights for the Internet. We adopted lexicon-content analysis to address the research questions of this paper (par. 3). Fostering capabilities  is another relevant element of discourse evolution, one that recalls how issues, once conceptualized, need to be made widely known, brought into the broader public space, and finally put on the agenda of politically relevant events in order to face the challenge of realizing their potential of informing relevant policy-finding and policy-making processes. This idea of fostering capabilities, directs our attention towards the existing nexus between norms and networks of actors operating on the transnational scene. Indeed, on the one side existing norms can facilitate the emergence and growth of networks by offering them “a set of values and beliefs around which to rally” (Hawkins 2002: 50) while, on the other side, networks can utilize such norms to produce change. The possibility to identify and map transnational networks operating on HA in the DA goes beyond the scope of this work. Nevertheless we propose an analysis of how such networks can form and perform in a specific setting, by focusing on human rights debates that have lately emerged in the context of Internet governance. From a predominantly technical one, the recent and on-going debate on the governance of the Internet has changed so as to include issues concerning the social consequences of technical developments. Human and communication rights have been recognized as relevant in this context right beside technical and more traditional issues but the way in which such a “humanized conception of IG” (Pavan et al. 2009) has been articulated still remains a matter of empirical investigation. We therefore focus on the centrality of actors’ interaction through which issues concerning such rights in a digital environment are constructed, by looking at semantic networks in the specific context of the Internet Governance Forum (par. 4). In concluding these introductory notes, as a matter of clarity, we also indicate what the present work does not   aim at addressing, not because of lesser relevance but as a matter of time, space and focus. By referring to discursive interactions, Dryzek (2005, 2006) elaborates a theoretical proposal that looks at the democratizing potential of the discursive and arguing logic, if such logic is to prevail on the traditional bargaining logic of international relations. Similarly, authors who discuss the relevance of norms in transnational politics (Khagram, Riker and Sikkink 2002; Finnemore & Sikkink 1998, Hawkins 2002), make the theoretical argument that such norms have a potential for restructuring world politics by “altering the norm structure of global governance “ (Sikkink 2002: 302), by “creating stronger rules by which states must abide, and by holding them accountable to those rules” (Hawkins 2002: 70) and by creating a social contexts that sanctions behaviors    h  a   l  -   0   0   4   4   8   2   3   1 ,  v  e  r  s   i  o  n    1   -   1   8    J  a  n    2   0   1   0
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