In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section UNESCO

  • Introduction
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Mission, Objectives, and Priorities

Communication UNESCO
Andrew Calabrese, Christopher Barnes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0298


UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is a UN agency, founded in 1946, and headquartered in Paris, France. The agency operates under the leadership of an elected director-general. As with the spirit in which the United Nations was founded, UNESCO aims to promote world peace among its 195 member states. To that end, UNESCO’s unique contribution is to promote intellectual exchange, with the aim of building transnational understanding, respect, and appreciation. UNESCO pursues many goals aimed at enhancing education, cultural preservation, and scientific exchange. Benefits of the agency’s work are felt particularly in parts of the world where poverty and generally limited resources would otherwise result in the neglect, decay, or disappearance of rich cultural resources and traditions. In many ways, UNESCO invests resources to protect and celebrate global cultural and intellectual diversity, as it is manifested in both tangible and intangible forms. As with other UN agencies, UNESCO functions at the will of member states. It does not act autonomously to exercise the will of the agency’s leaders, nor does it have enforcement power. Rather, within the domains of its remit, the agency’s authority is of a moral rather than political nature. The covenants and declarations made under the auspices of UNESCO do not have the force of law, but UNESCO does wield significant moral authority, which is derived from the agreements it facilitates. In this sense, UNESCO can rightly be understood as an important locus of international cultural and philosophical discourse, and as a stable institutional means through which transnational literacy and moral consciousness is derived. Given this unique role, UNESCO is occasionally at the center of moral and political disputes among member states, which sometimes reflect competing national and regional interests. But in principle, UNESCO’s aims and activities are meant to be nonpartisan and consistent with universalist aspirations, as articulated in such founding UN documents as the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Special Journal Issues

A central theme for communication researchers interested in UNESCO includes the issues, controversies, and continued debate surrounding the global flow of communication and information. The special issues of Quaderns del CAC, Continuum, and Javnost cited in this section offer essential collections concerning the MacBride Report and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). As Moragas, et al. 2005 explains in an introduction to the special issue of Quaderns del CAC, the MacBride report remains one of the most influential documents about communication, and the issues addressed in the document persist in contemporary deliberation concerning communication, media, and information in the 21st century. The sentiment is echoed by the introduction to the Javnost collection (Osolnik 2005) The introduction to the Continuum collection (Calabrese 2004) explains changes since the MacBride Report, and how the key concepts of the global movement for communication rights shift along with political and historic contexts. The controversies and ongoing relevance of the MacBride Report provide an interesting and provocative entry point to understanding UNESCO’s history and positions in connection to the field of communication and media research. Information on additional sources related to the MacBride Report and WSIS can be found under the Controversies, Reforms, and New Directions heading.

  • Calabrese, Andrew. 2004. The promise of civil society: A global movement for communication rights. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 18.3: 317–329.

    DOI: 10.1080/1030431042000256081

    This article introduces an issue of Continuum based on a research colloquium that took place on 5–7 May 2003 in anticipation of the first phase of the WSIS. It introduces and historicizes the concept of “civil society” as a theme running throughout the issue in relation to public discourses concerning the future of communication rights and global policies used to secure them. The essay emphasizes the importance of communications rights in the struggle to re-envision a global civil society that centers on democratic communication.

  • Moragas, Miquel de, Mercè Díez, Martín Becerra, and Isabel Fernández Alonso. 2005. The MacBride Report, 25 years later: Context and content of an unfinished debate. Quaderns del CAC 21:23–25.

    This issue of Quaderns del CAC is devoted to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the MacBride Report. This introductory article explains how the collection of essays is designed to address the challenges facing communication in the 21st century in regard to issues related to the MacBride Report. The authors provide a useful description of the background and reactions to the Report within its historical context.

  • Osolnik, Bogdan. 2005. The MacBride Report – 25 years later. Javnost-The Public 12.3: 5–11.

    DOI: 10.1080/13183222.2005.11008891

    This article is an introduction to a special issue of Javnost-The Public devoted to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the MacBride Report. Osolnik was a former member of International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems and also one of the Report’s co-authors. In the introduction, he describes how the Commission and its mandate were created, the key issues and problems the Report addressed, and the recommendations it proposed.

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