The New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO or NWIO) aka the MacBride Commission is a term that was coined in a debate over media representations of the developing world in UNESCO in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The term was widely used by the MacBride Commission, a UNESCO panel chaired by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Sean MacBride, which was charged with creation of a set of recommendations to make global media representation more equitable. The MacBride Commission produced a report titled "Many Voices, One World", which outlined the main philosophical points of the New World Information Communication Order.


The fundamental issues of imbalances in global communication had been discussed for some time. The American media scholar Wilbur Schramm noted in 1964 that the flow of news among nations is thin, that much attention is given to developed countries and little to less-developed ones, that important events are ignored and reality is distorted.[1] From a more radical perspective, Herbert Schiller observed in 1969 that developing countries had little meaningful input into decisions about radio frequency allocations for satellites at a key meeting in Geneva in 1962.[2] Schiller pointed out that many satellites had military applications. Intelsat which was set up for international co-operation in satellite communication, was also dominated by the United States. In the 1970s these and other issues were taken up by the Non-Aligned Movement and debated within the United Nations and UNESCO.

NWICO grew out of the New International Economic Order of 1974. From 1976-1978, the New World Information and Communication Order was generally called the shorter New World Information Order or the New International Information Order.

The start of this discussion is the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) as associated with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) starting from the early 1970s.

Mass media concerns began with the meeting of non-aligned nations in Algiers, 1973; again in Tunis 1976, and later in 1976 at the New Delhi Ministerial Conference of Non-Aligned Nations.

The 'new order' plan was textually formulated by Tunisia's Information Minister Mustapha Masmoudi. Masmoudi submitted working paper No. 31 to the MacBride Commission. These proposals of 1978 were titled the 'Mass Media Declaration.' The MacBride Commission at the time was a 16-member body created by UNESCO to study communication issues.[3][unreliable source?]

Among those involved in the movement were the Latin American Institute for the Study of Transnationals (ILET). One of its co-founders, Juan Somavia was a member of the MacBride Commission. Another important voice was Mustapha Masmoudi, the Information Minister for Tunisia. In a Canadian radio program in 1983, Tom McPhail describes how the issues were pressed within UNESCO in the mid-1970s when the United States withheld funding to punish the organization for excluding Israel from a regional group of UNESCO. Some OPEC countries and a few socialist countries made up the amount of money and were able to get senior positions within UNESCO. NWICO issues were then advanced at an important meeting in 1976 held in Costa Rica.

The only woman member of the Commission was Betty Zimmerman, representing Canada because of the illness of Marshall McLuhan, who died in 1980. The movement was kept alive through the 1980s by meetings of the MacBride Round Table on Communication, even though by then the leadership of UNESCO distanced itself from its ideas.

The UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity of 2005 puts into effect some of the goals of NWICO, especially with regard to the unbalanced global flow of mass media. However, this convention was not supported by the United States, and it does not appear to be as robust as World Trade Organization agreements that support global trade in mass media and information.


A wide range of issues were raised as part of NWICO discussions. Some of these involved long-standing issues of media coverage of the developing world and unbalanced flows of media influence. But other issues involved new technologies with important military and commercial uses. The developing world was likely to be marginalized by satellite and computer technologies. The issues included:

  • News reporting on the developing world that reflects the priorities of news agencies in London, Paris and New York. Reporting of natural disasters and military coups rather than the fundamental realities. At the time four major news agencies controlled over 80% of global news flow.
  • An unbalanced flow of mass media from the developed world (especially the United States) to the underdeveloped countries. Everyone watches American movies and television shows.
  • Advertising agencies in the developed world have indirect but significant effects on mass media in the developing countries. Some observers also judged the messages of these ads to be inappropriate for the Third World.
  • An unfair division of the radio spectrum. A small number of developed countries controlled almost 90% of the radio spectrum. Much of this was for military use.
  • There were similar concerns about the allocation of the geostationary orbit (parking spots in space) for satellites. At the time only a small number of developed countries had satellites and it was not possible for developing countries to be allocated a space that they might need ten years later. This might mean eventually getting a space that was more difficult and more expensive to operate.
  • Satellite broadcasting of television signals into Third World countries without prior permission was widely perceived as a threat to national sovereignty. The UN voted in the early 1970s against such broadcasts.
  • Use of satellites to collect information on crops and natural resources in the Third World at a time when most developing countries lacked the capacity to analyze this data.
  • At the time most mainframe computers were located in the United States and there were concerns about the location of databases (such as airline reservations) and the difficulty of developing countries catching up with the US lead in computers.
  • The protection of journalists from violence was raised as an issue for discussion. For example, journalists were targeted by various military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s. As part of NWICO debates there were suggestions for study on how to protect journalists and even to discipline journalists who broke "generally recognized ethical standards". However, the MacBride Commission specifically came out against the idea of licensing journalists.[4]

Response of the United States

The United States was hostile to NWICO. According to some analysts, the United States saw these issues simply as barriers to the free flow of communication and to the interests of American media corporations. It disagreed with the MacBride report at points where it questioned the role of the private sector in communications. It viewed the NWICO as dangerous to freedom of the press by ultimately putting an organization run by governments at the head of controlling global media, potentially allowing for censorship on a large scale. From another perspective, the MacBride Commission recommendations requiring the licensing of journalists amounted to prior censorship and ran directly counter to basic US law on the freedom of expression.

There were also accusations of corruption at the highest level of UNESCO leadership in Paris. The US eventually withdrew its membership in UNESCO (as did the United Kingdom and Singapore) at the end of 1984. The matter was complicated by debates within UNESCO about Israel's archaeological work in the city of Jerusalem, and about the Apartheid regime in South Africa.[citation needed] The United States rejoined in 2003.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Wilbur L. Schramm, Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries, Stanford University Press, 1964, p. 65.
  2. ^ Herbert I Schiller, Mass Communications and American Empire, Beacon Press, 1969, p. 140.
  3. ^ The Grenada Revolution Online: NWICO - New World Information and Communication Order
  4. ^ Many Voices, One World, Paris 1984, p. 236.
  5. ^ Henrikas Yushkiavitshus (2003-01-01). "UNESCO welcomes back U.S.A." Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2009-08-06. 

Further reading

  • "Hope and Folly: the United States and UNESCO, 1945-1985", William Preston, Edward S. Herman, and Herbert Schiller, Univ of Minnesota Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8166-1788-0
  • Hans Köchler (ed.), The New International Information and Communication Order: Basis for Cultural Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence among Nations. (Studies in International Relations, X.) Vienna: Braumüller, 1985. ISBN 3-7003-0645-8
  • McChesney, Robert W. and Schiller, Dan. The Political Economy of International Communications: Foundations for the Emerging Global Debate about Media Ownership and Regulation. (Technology, Business and Society Programme Paper, 11). United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. October 2003. http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/%28httpAuxPages%29/C9DCBA6C7DB78C2AC1256BDF0049A774/$file/mcchesne.pdf
  • Media, Culture and Society, Vol. 12, No. 3 (July 1990), Special issue on "Farewell to NWICO?"
  • Mowlana, Hamid, & Roach, Colleen. (1992). New world information and communication order: Overview of recent developments and activities. In Michael Traber & Kaarle Nordenstreng (Eds.), Few voices, many worlds: Towards a media reform movement (pp. 4–17). London: World Association for Christian Communication.
  • Nordenstreng, Kaarle. (2010). MacBride report as a culmination of NWICO. In Keynote at International Colloquium ‘Communication et Changement Social en Afrique’. Université Stendhal, Grenoble 3 http://www.uta.fi/jour/english/contact/nordenstreng_eng.html
  • Nordenstreng, Kaarle. (2010). The New World Information and Communication Order: Testimony of an actor. In Round Table at International Colloquium ‘30 Years of Communication Geopolitics: Actors and Flows, Structures and Divides’. Paris http://www.uta.fi/cmt/en/contact/staff/kaarlenordenstreng/publications/Paris.pdf