Communication and community in times of isolation

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 Photo: Deliris/Shutterstock

WACC’s response to the ongoing situation regarding COVID-19

For our common good, we need to use and promote technologies to unite people and communities who are divided by adversity.

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) is raising physical and psychological barriers and as people and communities are experiencing various degrees of isolation, fear, and despair, it is all the more important that communication technologies – especially social media and digital platforms – are used to convey trustworthy information and stories of courage and hope.

WACC believes that communication plays a crucial role in strengthening peace, security, and social justice. In a world increasingly mediated by digital technologies, communication is even more vital in the building and shaping of community (one of WACC’s key guiding principles).

These principles remind us not to take “communication” for granted. Issues of access, affordability, language, representation, and participation are just some areas we must address both in our networks and globally. 

Communication builds and shapes community

Communication is the invisible bond that holds communities together. The life of a community is enriched by open, honest and transparent dialogue about decisions and events affecting the lives of its members. This applies equally to a neighbourhood or village, a city, a religious community, or a community of nations.

Relationships within a community are created and strengthened by face-to-face conversation, through community media run by and for its members, and social media that enable genuine participation in political, social and cultural questions of public interest.

Unfortunately, in an era of digital communication, we need to be all the more wary of disinformation. We need to prioritise communication that unites people and helps them to promote common interests, rather than that which divides or sows fear. We need to support and share trustworthy media. Alternative and social media can help revitalise communities and rekindle relationships since they represent ways of communicating that are open and inclusive, rather than one-way and exclusive. 

Applying communication principles to a digital age

In a recent publication, WACC proposed ten principles to guide communication in today’s digital spheres. They are formulated as propositions illustrative of communication rights that everyone might reasonably claim as essential to good governance, good citizenship, and building genuine community:

*      Everyone is entitled to communicate, to inform, and to share knowledge. This reflects the freedom of individuals and communities to express their opinions and aspirations.

*      Everyone is entitled to dignity and respect. This reflects the equality of individuals “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

*      Everyone is entitled to just representation. This reflects the need for balanced and fair representation in public communication and the need to counter misrepresentation.

*      Everyone is entitled to his or her own cultural and linguistic identity. This reflects the need for public communication to open up space for alternative worldviews.

*      Everyone is entitled to communication skills and media literacy. This reflects the need for adequate training and capacity building.

*      Everyone is entitled to accessible communication, information and knowledge at affordable levels. This reflects the need for genuine accessibility to the communication infrastructure together with a minimum of economic obstacles.

*      Everyone is entitled to take part in the information and communication society. This reflects the need to dismantle political, economic, social, and cultural barriers.

*      Everyone is entitled to independent mass and social media. This reflects the need for media accountability, transparency and the symbiotic relationship between good governance and good citizenship.

*      Everyone is entitled to a diversity of opinions and points of view. This reflects the need for a range of information sources as well as balanced and contextualised news.

*      Everyone is entitled to fair and unbiased public communication. This reflects the need for ethical norms and accountability at all levels.

In times of isolation, people and communities need effective and trustworthy means of communication. Digital technologies can provide ways for people to stay in touch as well as vital information that can save lives. Open access to the digital sphere is a prime example of communication rights in practice.