Communication Imbalance: A curse of the past that haunts today

The divide between west and east, developed and developing countries is not new and certainly is not limited to political and economic discrepancies. The reciprocal flow of news and information, from the era of traditional media to the Internet and media convergence, has been a challenge over the years and despite the efforts of International Organizations, communication imbalance continues.

In the 1970s UNESCO was appointed to address the lapse of information freedom favoring the west and focused  “in the work of advancing mutual knowledge and understanding of people through all means of mass communication.” The Cold War interrupted the mission of “New World Information and Communication Order” (NWICO) and the attempt to support developing countries since communication in a polarized world was the least uneven.

The global political instability diminished any chance to promote the NWICO concept of “Many Voices One world,” especially after the US and UK withdrew their UNESCO memberships and took away their budgets in the name of NWICO. Despite the actions of developing countries to continue working towards the establishment of a new order, the efforts were fruitless.

Nowadays, traditional media news traffic is complemented, or in some cases even replaced, by the Internet. Theoretically, information should now be more accessible, up-to-date and accurate than it has ever been. However, as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon pointed out in the opening of the 2012 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS),  “we cannot forget that two thirds of the world’s people still do not have access to the Internet.” Considering this statement, it is evident that things have not changed much and notwithstanding the technological evolution in the developed world, the majority of the population is lacking access to basics such as security and health, let alone access to the Internet.

The digital divide between the developed and developing countries is widely acknowledged and 20 years after NWICO, the UN launched WSIS in 2003 to focus on bridging this gap proposing priority lines of action. In the digital era the flow of media communications is a multi-way path but at the same time not that different from the one-way information traffic of traditional media in the late 20th century.

The question rising is whether digital divide is only an issue between developed and developing countries, or between digital immigrants and natives. The divide is encountered even across people with the same demographics. Technological updates increase Internet capacity but also make it challenging to keep up with. Moreover, having Internet access does not guarantee knowledge to use it. Even if skills apply, people might be lacking time or interest to participate in online communications and content creation leaving the floor open to Media Corporations and active users to continue communication inequality within and across borders.

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