A Right to Media?

81 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2009 Last revised: 27 Sep 2010

See all articles by Lorie Graham

Lorie Graham

Suffolk University Law School

Date Written: September 10, 2009


Often we think about media as a tool for transmitting information. However, media also has the power to actually name and define issues. This is particularly true when mainstream media is reporting (or chooses not to report) on events that involve a marginalized or non-majority audience, as in the case of indigenous peoples. Recent scholarship from journalism and psychology explores the role media plays in shaping our view of “self” and “other.” This same scholarship explores how media coverage can shape intergroup relationships, silencing voices or promoting voices in the process of public deliberation. This latter issue might well take us into the realm of “civic or public journalism,” which involves a shift from journalism as information to journalism as a conversation. This paper does not seek to articulate the proper role of journalism in the reporting of news and information. Rather the focus of this article is to place media within the context of international human rights law: Is there a “right to media” under international law? And if so, what does that right entail? From there it may be possible to explore more fully the larger ethical question of the role of media in society.

This article explores each of these questions within the realm of international human rights law and in particular Indigenous Peoples’ rights under the recently adopted U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). There are two primary reasons for focusing on indigenous peoples. First, as Part II demonstrates the lives of indigenous peoples have been intimately shaped and impacted by mainstream media. Their stories offer up a rich framework for exploring more closely the ethical claims of the role of media in shaping our views of self and other. Second, the UNDRIP is one of the first international human rights instruments to articulate what this paper contends is a right to media.

While no “right to media” has been stated as such in international conventional law, as analyzed in this article, it has firmly established components. Part III examines the component parts of a right to media and how these parts have become widely accepted in international human rights law, particularly in the context of indigenous peoples’ rights. Part IV revisits these same components, but within the context of regional and domestic law. This article maintains that a right to media comprises a number of core rights, including freedom of expression and the right to receive information. As formulated, this right supports other core rights impacting indigenous peoples, such as the right to non-discrimination, self-determination, and respect for cultural integrity. Thus, the aims of this paper are to first articulate a right to media under international human rights law and then to demonstrate how recognition of this right can promote voices in the media that tend to otherwise be silenced.

Part IV of this paper takes us beyond the question of rights and explores more fully how these rights are being shaped and advanced by the movement for media pluralism at the regional and domestic level. In doing so, the paper identifies a number of factors that need to be present at the domestic level in order to ensure a right to media for indigenous peoples. Finally, the conclusion discusses the larger role that media rights can play in promoting other important societal norms, such as the promotion of peace and tolerance among societies.

Suggested Citation

Graham, Lorie, A Right to Media? (September 10, 2009). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 429, 2010, Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 09-39, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1471635

Lorie Graham (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States

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