The Willow DeclarationAugust 1981
"The Willow Declaration" was written in response to the press attacks on the UNESCO MacBride Commission, whose report, One World, Many Voices, called for a more egalitarian communication infrastructure. This report was the excuse the US used as an excuse to not pay their UN dues. The Willow Declaration was written by a group of artists and researchers who met at my house in Willow, New York, in 1981 to declare North American support for the goals of MacBride in solidarity with Third World aspirations. The Willow Declaration points out that those of us in the so-called "developed" world also need our own new information order. The Declaration was reprinted in many newsletters and translated into many languages. It was adopted as part of the platform of the Writers Congress, sponsored by The Nation. —DeeDee Halleck
In 1979, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released the final report of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. For over three years, the Commission's sixteen international communication experts and their Chairman, Nobel and Lenin Peace Laureate Sean MacBride, had been investigating the present inequitable world information infrastructure. When the report first appeared, its recommendations-- to decolonize and to democratize world communication--were greeted with enthusiasm by most of the world's media. But scarcely a peep was heard from the U.S. press. Since then, there has been open hostility toward UNESCO itself and a movement in the U.S. Congress to cut funds to that body. The elite media, the academic establishment, the Department of State, and such organizations as Freedom House and the World Press Freedom Committee, have portrayed the MacBride report as a conspiracy by the Third World to limit democracy, to gag Western reporters, to destroy the free exchange of ideas and to stifle news.
What is the reality here? The roots of the MacBride Commission's inquiry lie in the growing movement of countries in the less developed world to redress the economic and social imbalances that are a legacy of colonial rule.
In the early 1960s, leaders in the Third World began to call for a "new world information order" to redress information inequities as well. The predominantly one-way flow of information from the nations of Europe and North America tended to perpetuate economic dependency, to distort local news and to contaminate local cultural values. Some of the concrete demands for a new world information order include a more equitable distribution of the world's radio frequencies, termination of unauthorized remote sensing satellite surveillance of crops and mineral resources, and increased coverage of Third World affairs in the press of the developed world.
These and other demands are based on fears that technology in general, and communication technology in particular, has been advancing at such a rate that its capital-intensive character put its control into the hands of large monopolistic interests (both capitalistic and communist). Information is defined by the powerful as wealth and the powerful act accordingly to control that wealth. More and more, the movement and the production of real goods is dictated by information flows. To have no access to information is to have no access to wealth and is one of the causes of the world's imbalances—resulting in real hunger and real inflation in real time. The question before the entire world is whether an advanced electronic information environment of broadcasting and cable television, computers, satellites, digital data streams, fiber optics, and videotex publishing can be responsive to human needs. Can this technology lead to more decentralized and democratic forms of self-reliance and interdependence? Can information be shared with greater justice and equity?
The MacBride Commission addressed these matters in its report. The U.S. press chose to ignore the substance of this work. Information needs and disparities in all parts of the world, including the industrialized countries, were catalogued in great detail by the Commission but the substance of the reasearch was not mentioned in the U.S. media. The many recommendations for increased public access and participation were overlooked. Suggestions for strengthening democratic information structures were ignored. Instead, an issue (which appears not in the report itself but in one of the dozens of studies commissioned after the publication of the MacBride report) has been singled out by the so-called "free press" in the West. This item, a call to protect journalists by issuing them licenses, was seized upon as the only 'newsworthy" element of these important deliberations. Even the National News Agency in a study of the coverage of these discussions, found the U.S. press sorely lacking in objectivity. Such distortions are precisely what developing countries have found intolerable and what the MacBride report is all about: imbalance of information and the need for re-ordering of priorities. This kind of sensationalized, one-dimensional view is often the perspective from which many international events are reported in our media. Our national and local information is often just as biased. As much as the U.S, media have penetrated the cultural life of most of the world, they fail to reflect the authentic diversity and depth of our own political and cultural life. Western media have called for what is tantamount to a global First Amendment while monopolizing and restricting the right and means to communicate domestically.
In recognition of this and in solidarity with all information-poor people of the world, we offer the following declaration in support of continued inquiry into communication problems.
We are a group of artists, educators, researchers, film and video producers, electronic technicians, social scientists and writers united in our support for democratic communications. The economic, cultural, and spiritual welfare of humanity is increasingly tied to the structure for production and distribution of information. Most communications today is one-way, from the centers of power to passive audiences of consumers. We need a new information order here in the United States to give the power of voice to the unheard and the disenfranchised. We strongly support freedom of the press, but we see that in our own country, this freedom now exists mainly for huge corporation to make profits, to promote socially useless consumption, and to impose corporate ideology and agendas. As workers who produce, study and transmit information, we pledge to change this reality. We will work to preserve and encourage face-to-face communication: people can speak best for themselves without the intervention of professionalism or technological mediation. We support that technology which enhances human power and which is designed and controlled by the communities which use it. We support the participation of workers and non-professionals in media production and the use of media for trade union and community organizing. We support the development of community channels for programs, news flow and data exchange. We support popular access to and control of media and communications systems. We support the internationally guaranteed right to reply and criticize and deplore the fact that this right is being attacked now in the U.S. by efforts in Congress to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine and public interest broadcast regulations. While these laws have been underutilized and difficult to apply, they have been the principle tools for forcing even token public debate. We who live and work in the U.S, pledge ourselves to struggle for democratization of communications within our communities, our places of work and our political institutions. We support the further inquiry by international organizations such as UNESCO into the social relations of the electronic environment. As the forward to the MacBride Report states:
It is essential that all men and women, in all social and cultural environments should be given the opportunity of joining in the process of collective thinking thus initiated, for new ideas must be developed and more positive measures must be taken to shake off the prevailing inertia. We hope that these discussions will continue and will resonate among and between nations and peoples.
Willow participants: Stanley Aronowitz, Liza Bear, Eddie Becker, Nancy Cain, Tobe Carey, Carol Clements, Donna Cooper, Ariel Doughtery, Howard Fredericks, Bart Freidman, Bertram Gross, DeeDee Halleck, Julie Haynes, Joel Kovel, Margaret Leo, Michael McClard, Paul McIssac, Karen Paulsell, Andrew Phillips, Karen Ranucci, Anthony Rutkowski(via teleconference), Kusum Singh, Michael Wallace, Marc Weiss, Brian Winston, Sol Yurick
Back to Theory