Non-Traditional Media’s Struggle for Legitimacy: Missed Opportunities at the World Summit on the Information Society

Posted in 2010 Journal


Media in general have yet to gain the legitimacy necessary to fully participate in global governance deliberations. Non-traditional media—community radio, bloggers, citizen journalists and the like—face even more obstacles to achieving participation. This occurs for several key reasons. First, some global actors do not accept any media’s need to participate in global governance deliberations. Second, some traditional media have deliberately thwarted non-traditional media’s progress toward legitimacy as a global governance player. Finally, non-traditional have not embraced past lessons about how new actors gain legitimacy in global governance. This paper explores why non-traditional media have not successfully participated in global governance deliberations through the lens of the World Summit on the Information Society.

Gaining legitimacy in order to participate in global governance deliberations is a difficult and lengthy journey with an uncertain outcome. Global governance systems historically favor states, and new non-state players often find high thresholds in entering deliberations. It is not impossible for new players to gain legitimacy and become fully-accepted deliberating parties. Developing countries, the private sector and NGOs have all earned legitimacy from global governance systems that previously only favored powerful Western states and institutions. Now, media are attempting that same feat. But in media’s attempt to become recognized as a legitimate player, a faction of the media – non-traditional media – is being marginalized in favor of large, corporate-owned entities.

Non-traditional media are known as many things: small media, community media, emerging media, independent media, alternative media or new media. Following Couldry and Curran’s (pg. 7, 2003) definition, non-traditional media “challenges, at least implicitly, actual concentrations of media power, whatever form those concentrations may take in different locations.” The broad definition is purposeful and useful because a restriction on who or what comprises media and non-traditional media can be used as a means to restrict free expression. Under this guise, the individual is not part of the media, and thus not granted protections. For the purposes of this paper, non-traditional media are defined as individuals or independent groups focused on targeted reporting, usually from citizen journalists or activist journalists. The mediums and tools include Internet-based journalists reporting through blogs, microblogs (such as Twitter) and Web forums; community radio outlets not run by states or large corporations; and independently or self-published written materials, such as newspapers or newsletters. Non-traditional media are not corporate-owned entities, even if those entities fall into a category above, such as a targeted community radio station; and state-run media.

From this juxtaposition, we see that it is not necessarily the outletor the reach that triggers the non-traditional media classification. Rather, it is the purpose and relative power of the media that makes it traditional versus non-traditional.

This paper asks why non-traditional media have not been recognizedas legitimate players in global governance and not been allowed to fully participate in deliberations. By exploring this puzzle, the conditions under which non-traditional media may enter global governance as a participating actor become clearer. I argue that non-traditional media have faced exclusion for three broad reasons, all of which will be explored further. First, some current global governance actors either do not recognize, or do not accept, media’s need to participate in deliberations. As such, the conventional norms and procedures do not easily allow non-traditional media to insert themselves in deliberations. Second, traditional media are just beginning to find a toehold in global governance deliberations, and often these outlets exclude non-traditional media from progress toward legitimacy as a way to protect large media’s newfound acceptance. Third, non-traditional media are not embracing past lessons about ways in which new actors gain legitimacy. Here, fragmentation of efforts and a failure to capitalize on transnational advocacy and policy networks are particularly problematic. Media can act as a legitimate mirror for the processes and players of global governance; access legitimization allows media to do their jobs more effectively and therefore is more beneficial to news consumers. Media add to global governance when they support deliberative processes that respect differences, according to Curran (2000), and therefore prove themselves key players in democracy and global governance. As a watchdog, media have a different role to play in global governance than NGOs or the private sector. States, especially those that restrict press freedoms, have a stake in keeping media out of global governance, as participation allows media access and a platform that would otherwise be missing. Media actors themselves might be wary of participation because journalists are drilled to maintain a wall between themselves and their reporting.

This thinking maintains the status quo of the media shunted aside in global governance and for states and other powerful actors to retain their control over deliberations and outcomes. Media wary of crossing professional boundaries should instead adopt a network approach that allows their interests to be represented without violating press norms regarding separation of advocacy and reporting. This provides access and rights that will not force media into “institutional moulds that comfort the comfortable” (Calabrese, pg. 323, 2004).

The purpose of this paper is to go beyond media as an all-encompassing entity to consider non-traditional media as separate phenomena. This is important because scholarly works too often treat all forms of media as equal, ignoring the fact that media concentration creates business interests over journalistic interests. Non-traditional media tend to be more participatory, community-based and inclusive.

Non-traditional media’s struggle for legitimacy and participation will be examined through the lens of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a two-part gathering primarily organized by the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations. Held in 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland and in 2005 in Tunis, Tunisia, WSIS’ stated goals included

“to build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life” (WSIS, 2003).

The summit marked one of the first times when civil society was invited to be a participating partner in a meeting of this nature. Summit organizers vowed to recognize the role of the media as well. Yet, despite the subject matter, the media were largely relegated to the margins, and those that did participate drew heavily from large, corporate-owned entities. Non-traditional media were excluded seemingly with the explicit permission of traditional media. This helped lead to shadow summit activities where non-traditional media’s participation highlighted the schism among media about who should participate in global governance and how.

The implications of non-traditional media gaining legitimacy to participate in global governance are far-reaching. Exploring the question is instructive of both how participation rights are granted in global governance and, more specifically, how non-state actors gain and Lose Weight Exercise their legitimacy within statist institutions. Despite the stranglehold of power that states maintain in global governance, globalization has led to a rise of non-state actors. If or when institutions experience a power shift away from states, it will be toward these newly legitimized actors in global governance. Will the new system mirror the old, in that some actors remain marginalized while the powerful strive to protect their privileged positions? Or will a more inclusive environment emerge, when individuals and smaller groups take a seat at the table of global governance?

This paper proceeds in three parts. First, a review of literatures will highlight the process non-state actors, including media in general, face to become legitimate global governance participants. Scholars have tracked the successes and failures of NGOs through this process, which is useful for media to understand if they want to avoid past mistakes or replicate successes. This issue also will be placed within the debate over communication rights in general to understand how framing and transnational advocacy networks help non-state actors gain legitimacy. Second, I provide arguments drawn from the literatures of the conditions under which non-state actors may best enter global governance as a legitimate player. Finally, the WSIS case study will be applied to understand how and why non-traditional media failed to gain legitimacy to participate in the summit and continue to go without legitimization in global governance deliberations.

Gaining Legitimacy in Global Governance

External vs. Internal Legitimacy

Global governance systems dictate much about how we live our lives. Decisions made through institutions govern trade, agriculture, health, information and more. Yet the systems remain off-limits to most of the world’s people. Instead, states and groups represent people. Gaining access to this exclusive club is difficult, and participation in deliberations is only granted through a process of legitimization.

I argue there are two types of legitimacy in global governance: external, in that institutions have a right to make rules and those rules are accepted; and internal, in that other players in global governance recognize a particular group or sector as worthy to participate in global governance processes. Of the former, some have questioned whether legitimacy even exists in international systems. Hurd (1999) argues that legitimacy indeed exists, while Buchanan and Keohane (2006) do not accept that as a given. Rather, they outline the parameters for legitimacy, including ongoing consent of democratic states and proper reflection of global governance institutions’ dynamic character. Buchanan and Keohane also note that legitimate institutions will address the problem of “the tendency of democratic states to disregard the legitimate interests of foreigners.” (pg. 164, 2006)

Hurd and Buchanan and Keohane subscribe to very statist models of legitimacy. Hurd argues that with legitimacy comes a power to rule, ignoring that non-state actors in global governance provide value to deliberations and in fact can improve the legitimacy of global governance institutions. Hurd recognizes that these institutions provide benefits beyond what states are capable of, yet situates his arguments entirely within a statist model. Similarly, Buchanan and Keohane focus on states’ role in legitimacy.

Civil Society’s Journey to Legitimacy

Ignoring non-state actors’ role in global governance is curious because of the shift toward more inclusive global governance institutions, with a particular focus on including civil society. Prompted by calls for a less state-driven model, civil society, chiefly through NGOs, has participated in global governance for several decades. Participation, however, does not automatically grant legitimacy. Woods (1999) rightly argues that participation is more than involvement; it is access to decision-making and power. In other words, it is gaining legitimacy to obtain these privileges. Civil society actors have struggled to gain legitimacy, as the WSIS case study will show. This struggle invokes the second form of legitimacy in global governance: internal legitimacy granted in order to become a fully heard, fully participatory party in deliberations. Exploring how NGOs gained internal legitimacy is instructive for media hoping to do the same because it explores a set of best practices developed over decades for doing so. Though media’s legitimization will not follow the exact path of NGOs, consulting pitfalls of NGOs’ experience may help media avoid similar setbacks.

With countless NGOs existing worldwide, it is not possible to fully outline the groups’ influence on global matters. However, NGOs, which are usually issue-specific, have influenced the outcome of many global deliberations, including crafting environmental, human rights, health and education policies. Teegan et al. (2004) describe NGOs as the third sector, complementing the public sector (states and governments) and the private sector in global policy formation. NGOs fill the gaps left by the public sector, which may act too slowly to address social concerns, and the private sector, which may not have the financial inclination to act (Keck and Sikkink, 1999). The role helped prove NGOs’ value and thus led to legitimacy over time as the groups continued to participate in global policy formation. NGOs further benefited from legitimacy gains by filling in for failed state regimes (Teegan et al. 2004). State actors had little choice but to accept NGOs in this role when state regimes fell, leaving a void and a need for one of the sectors to speak for the unrepresented. NGOs also benefited from the political culture in the 1980s in the United States and United Kingdom, which called for less government influence. Thus, NGOs were able to work within statist global institution norms while slowly altering the rules about who participated in deliberations.

Despite the increased participation of NGOs, questions of legitimacy abound. Though many states worldwide do not always act in constituents’ best interest, citizens can employ measures (however onerous and possibly ineffective) to address these concerns. That is not the case with NGOs. In her discussion of self-serving states’ subjected to accountability measures, Woods (pg. 45, 1999) notes that “NGOs are a vast and largely unregulated spectrum of organizations – some legitimate, some self-serving and corrupt,” and that NGOs also must be accountable to the people for whom they claim to represent. Vedder (2003) finds this troubling because, agreeing with Keck and Sikkink, NGOs fill gaps left by governments, thus granting them power. That power, Vedder argues, indicates a willingness to legitimize the role NGOs will play. These concerns regarding the legitimacy of NGOs are well taken. Appreciation for NGOs’ work should not be overshadowed by debate over legitimacy. Nor should this debate be seen as a way to oust NGOs from global governance deliberations. Such debates continue to exist about institutions themselves and so will naturally continue to exist about the actors involved.

However, NGOs’ proven role in global governance has overcome these legitimacy concerns and, as a whole, NGOs are now rightly considered a legitimate player in global governance. One reason lies in the value they bring to institutions and global issues. Teegan et al. note that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two NGOs in 1997 (the International Campaign to Ban Landmines) and 1999 (Doctors Without Borders), showing noted influence of the NGOs on world politics. Because of this added value, and because NGOs can more easily address issues the state and private sectors cannot or will not, Teegan et al. argue that states have given NGOs their own space in which to operate. This has led to a slow legitimization of NGOs as the three sectors increasingly must cooperate to address global concerns.

Civil society in general, not only NGOs, is in an encouraging position because sovereignty is in decline (Calabrese, 2004). Calabrese(2004) argues that while the state retains control over force, it only tries to maintain control over the political space. Non-state actors challenge this assumption and Calabrese reports that civil society’s inventiveness can help it carve out political space in global governance. Though not focused specifically on the media, this is a useful lesson for media. State actors have little incentive to invite media into global governance. Rather, following Calabrese’s thinking, media will have to carve out their own space in global governance (2004).

Framing, Advocacy Networks and Communication Rights

However, carving out political space is not a one-step process. The key lies in successful framing of a particular issue. Joachim (2003) argues that NGOs rely on framing to see their issues addressed by global governance institutions. Framing is a strategy employed to prove an issue is meaningful and actionable. Joachim believes that successful framing comes down to two conditions: NGOs capitalizing on the political opportunity structure of the institution in which they are embedded and NGOs’ mobilizing structures, which include organizational entrepreneurs, international constituencies and experts. Joachim’s argument therefore presupposes that the NGOs involved have gained external and internal legitimacy for themselves. External legitimacy is evident when the world community accepts an NGO’s right to act on a certain issues. Internal legitimacy is observed because Joachim assumes that the NGO already is embedded in an international institution, and thus able to take advantage of the institution’s political opportunity structure. Through this two-pronged legitimization, NGOs are able to adopt a particular issue, work within an institution such as the United Nations and then exert political pressure on states to take action.

Carpenter (2007) terms Joachim’s arguments a bit too optimistic, however. She argues that issue framing works better if it spans networks; merit alone will not raise an issue to international importance. However, it is not the density of the network alone that causes an issue to be adopted. Carpenter also argues that issues must fit organizational goals and are only adopted after weighing whether the issue has staying power and whether promoting it would positively or negatively affect other issues on the table.

Keck and Sikkink (1999) combine framing with the notion of transnational advocacy networks (TANs), which have helped make people believe they can have a stronger voice on a particular issue. The scholars define TANs as capturing the horizontal, borderless character of networks, and additionally featuring an advocacy component of a particular issue, making them unique from a traditional network. Groups within the networks’ nodes and connections can share and organize information and actions quickly. Networks can enter global governance deliberations more easily than individual actors – say, a community reporter – because the network’s size gives it power, lends itself more to legitimacy and capitalizes on knowledge from various groups within the network. By network members agreeing on an issue, but attacking it from multiple fronts, the network promotes its issue from a more comprehensive strategy than any one group within the network could accomplish. As we will see later through the WSIS case study, this lesson is particularly important to non-traditional media because individuals lack the power a larger advocacy network can bring.

NGOs have begun pointing to their involvement in TANs as a means to gain legitimacy (Hudson, 2001). Hudson would provide a critique of Keck and Sikkink’s praise of TANs because he argues that NGOs involved in TANs face legitimacy challenges. NGOs face an either-or battle: either they become more legitimate in the eyes of institutions, or they become more legitimate in the eyes of stakeholders. Hudson’s research offers two valuable lessons for all TAN members. First, TAN members need to balance relationships to remain true to their purpose without being over deferential to a particular party. Second, legitimacy is a tricky concept that is socially constructed. States that disagree with a TAN’s issue will be quick to label it as illegitimate. However, by focusing on relationships, TANs can more quickly gain legitimacy from various stakeholders and institutions.

Mueller et al. (2007) also depart from Keck and Sikkink TAN arguments. Instead of the latter’s model, in which TANs are motivated by principles and ideas, Mueller et al. argue that TANs are a subset of larger transnational policy networks (TPNs). By creating a broader framework, Mueller et al. argue that all types of political actors cluster around institutions, hoping to influence outcomes. Advocacy groups therefore have alliances within the institutions that they leverage to compel change. This analysis is more helpful than simply looking at insular TANs because the authors conclude that a connection must be made to global governance institutions in order to consider and deliberate a particular issue. However, Joachim’s framing conditions also are important to consider in judging whether an issue will ever rise to the attention of global institutions.

Connecting the discussion of framing and networks holds particular importance for communication rights in general. Communication rights and policies are not new to global governance. First introduced as a concept in 1969, advocates pushed for the right to communicate through Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Cammaerts and Carpentier, 2007). In the mid-1970s to early 1980s, New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) debates featured developing countries condemning uneven media representation. UNESCO’s International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems released a report, commonly known as the MacBride Report, identifying problems and suggestions around the right to communicate. But Western countries, the United States and United Kingdom in particular, decried the report and NWICO as an attack on press freedom and withdrew from UNESCO. The right to communicate debate was effectively sidelined within global governance institutions, arguably until WSIS. This represented a failure to overcome the era’s geopolitics, as well as to properly frame the right to communicate as a global issue worthy of attention.

In the interim of the MacBride Report and WSIS, the legitimized actors of global governance expanded from states to include civil society. Also within that time, non-state actors mobilized to debate and hold meetings about communication rights (Mueller et al., 2007), yet did not advance these discussions from TANs to TPNs. So, the history of the right to communicate is important to the research question because it demonstrates that when states, not civil society, control global governance institutions, certain issues will be taken off the table. The right to communicate is one such instance of this and, as we will explore in the WSIS case study, representative of how the inclusion of civil society can change deliberations – if the advocacy networks work with institutional allies to do so.

Taken as a whole, these literatures are instructive on how non-state actors have gained legitimacy in global governance. But there is little scholarly attention paid to media’s role as global governance participant in general. Even in issues of communication rights, researchers tend to focus more on state players or civil society. Yet, media fall into a murky area; media are non-state actors that are neither fully private nor fully part of civil society. Scholarly attention to media tends to treat media as vehicles to frame global governance issues, or if discussed as a deliberator, as a single, all-encompassing entity. This is akin to thinking that all businesses from a mom-and-pop shop to Google are on equal footing in the private sector. Non-traditional media are distinct from media conglomerations, but addressed sparingly and mostly in passing in literatures. Therefore, this topic deserves its own attention from scholars in order to better understand the past and future role of non-traditional media in global governance deliberations.

Conditions for Non-Traditional Media to Gain Legitimacy

Still, the literatures do present a revealing collection of conditions under which non-state actors have found legitimacy and created opportunities to participate in global governance. Non-traditional media would do well to follow these examples in order to avoid pitfalls from the past and capitalize on best practices. I argue there are several interdependent conditions under which non-traditional media may best gain legitimacy. The conditions include:

  • Successful Framing

Issues do not rise to serious deliberations if they are not framed properly. The global community needs a reason to act on a particular issue, especially if there are parties that seek to thwart deliberations.

  • Providing Recognizable Value

Intrinsic in successful issue framing is proof that a potential global governance participant provides value. NGOs have accomplished this by showing how they can act where states and the private sector cannot or will not; other actors seeking a similar outcome likewise must prove their niche service.

  • Capitalizing on Network Participation

Individuals find it difficult to enter the global governance environment. There are high barriers to entry that include financing, technological expertise, policy and issue expertise and relationship navigation. Individuals would likely fail if they tried alone to become a legitimized global governance participant and deliberator. That is why network participation is imperative. As we have seen, networks’ power lies in drawing from the resources of various members to benefit the entire network. The size of the network and varied expertise of its members lends it power. Networks also coalesce efforts, so individuals are not forced to repeat the same work as similarly interested parties.

Networks are most effective when participation spans both advocacy (TANs) and policy (TPNs). By engaging in TANs, network members find like-minded allies committed to similar goals. Yet, the network will not successfully crack barrier of global governance participation unless it has connections to the institutions themselves. Combined with successful framing, institutional nodes of TPNs help secure legitimization as a deliberator and access to global governance institutions.

  • Avoiding Fragmentation of Efforts

It is a rare issue in global governance when a single group or individual has sole interest in the outcome. While these groups may not always seek an identical outcome, usually there is room for cooperation. This is similar to capitalizing on networks, but with a key difference – actors seeking a particular outcome, such as to gain global governance participation rights, must not actively thwart others who seek the same goal. Doing so weakens both parties because attention and resources spent undermining the other is effort lost on achieving one’s ultimate goal.

  • Building Balanced Relationships

Hudson’s research (2001) proves how important relationships are to creating a groundswell of support for a particular issue. Those seeking to gain global governance legitimacy by solely focusing on institutional relationships, however, do so at their peril. If TPNs are properly used, institutional relationships will materialize. But often community-based, bottom-up relationships are ignored. If institutional relationships are not sufficient to secure the desired outcome, strong community relationships may help keep an issue alive.

An application of the case study shows that non-traditional media, for the most part, failed to meet these conditions during WSIS, which reflects a primary reason why non-traditional media failed to participate in the summit and continues to fail to gain legitimacy as a full deliberation participant today.

World Summit on the Information Society

WSIS was a two-part summit organized primarily by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and held in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. It was the UN’s third attempt to address global communication and information issues (Raboy, 2004) and the first major deliberations on the subject since the Internet’s predominance became clearer. The summit was designed as a multi-stakeholder process with states, civil society and the business sector acting as partners, though proceedings never quite broke free of past models favoring states. Of three sectors, civil society clearly held the least amount of power to affect change through official proceedings. Early WSIS resolutions did not explicitly include civil society, only member states and “sector members” (Raboy, 2004). Frustrated by this and by no mention of communication rights on an agenda of this nature, media activists, communication rights scholars and others formed a network called Voices 21 and published “A Global Movement for People’s Voices in Media and Communications in the 21st Century.” Its central focus was to get on the WSIS agenda in some form its main issue: “To ensure that the voices and concerns of ordinary people around the world are no longer excluded” (Voices 21). Network members included Association for Progressive Communication (APC), the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters and the World Association for Christian Communication, all of which work on non-traditional media advocacy in some form.

Voices 21 reached out to summit organizers, but maintained it received no response to their agenda-setting concerns (Voices 21). In 2001, the group redubbed itself the Platform on Communication Rights and began its Communication Rights in the Information Society (CRIS) campaign. CRIS purposefully created a link between communication rights and WSIS civil society participation in an effort to frame the issue and influence summit agendas. Ahead of the summit, the Platform held a joint meeting with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation interested in WSIS media involvement. This transnational advocacy network became part of a larger transnational policy network when it invited ITU and UNESCO representatives to its meeting, thus creating institutional connections. It was WSIS’s first civil society consultation (Raboy, 2004) and soon after civil society was specifically mentioned in summit documents.

Still, WSIS was unable to break entirely free of the traditional summit mold. In “PrepComs” prior to the summit, non-state actors watched as states vigorously debated the role non-state actors would have at WSIS – not just whether they could speak, but whether they could even observe certain summit proceedings. Civil society formed its own plenary, releasing declarations that stood in contrast to the government declaration; the latter, for instance, briefly mentions human rights, while the former focuses on human rights issues at WSIS centrally (Raboy, 2004). Civil society’s insertion of itself into the process was beneficial, but considering the large scope of civil society actors, the media in general continued to be marginalized. The Geneva Declaration of Principles mentions media only briefly and shuts out non-traditional media entirely with its line, “Traditional media in all their forms have an important role in the Information Society…”

Both traditional and non-traditional media dealt with their marginalization within general civil society in two ways: forming groups within the official summit format and creating alternative, parallel events outside of summit proceedings. First, a Media Caucus formed, comprising commercial television and radio networks, media associations, public service broadcasters and press freedom groups. With members such as American networks ABC, NBC and Fox, the traditional media with a financial interest in WSIS outcomes dominated the caucus (Hintz, 2004). Some community media were part of this group, but statements from the caucus marginalized non-traditional media. The Media Caucus actively sought to protect traditional media and made only passing references to non-traditional media concerns, such as media concentration. Commercial media actively blocked other concerns of non-traditional media from documents (Hintz, 2004). A separate group called the Community Media Working Group operated within the official summit channels and lobbied the Media Caucus for more recognition. It eventually became a subgroup of the Media Caucus in recognition that united media efforts would stand a better chance against the many interests vying to influence WSIS outcomes. However, the working group still found its meetings dominated by state actors seeking to thwart its efforts, creating what one attendee recalled as an “obstructive and intimidating environment” (Hintz, 2004).

The second approach taken by non-traditional media actors was to renounce the summit proceedings in general and participate in alternative summit activities dubbed “WSIS? We Seize!” (We Seize) in Geneva. Organizers held a conference, media labs and webcasts as part of We Seize. These activities took place just outside the official summit, and though organizers rejected WSIS and any authority it claimed, many participants moved back and forth between the official and alternative venues. But We Seize fell short of truly changing the dialogue of communication rights, non-traditional media’s legitimacy and WSIS in general. First, We Seize organizers did not establish adequate ties with supporters participating in WSIS. For instance, a radio stream from supporters attending WSIS was not linked to a video stream from We Seize (Hintz, 2004). Therefore WSIS attendees had to physically visit We Seize activities, which was difficult given the busy schedule of the summit. Second, We Seize had considerable trouble with law enforcement in Geneva, but found it impossible to hold such a meeting in Tunis, given the repressive media culture. Many media activists who organized We Seize stayed away from the Tunisia portion of WSIS, crashing the momentum of the countermovement and with it, the movement that best represented non-traditional media’ concerns.

We Seize also failed non-traditional media’s advancement on a more fundamental level. It approached activities from an Internet-focused agenda, and many of its offerings, such as webcasts, relied on Internet technologies. While most Western non-traditional media are Internet-based or at least have access and understanding of these technologies, many developing countries’ non-traditional media use radio or print. We Seize therefore did not speak to developing countries’ non-traditional media’s needs and also impeded participation of those without Internet access.

That left the interests and legitimization hopes of non-traditional media within the hands of officials WSIS participants. Ultimately, non-traditional media failed to gain legitimacy to participate as deliberators in WSIS. But why? The causes become clear when examined through the conditions previously identified through which non-state actors may best gain legitimacy and become full participants in global governance deliberations: successful framing, providing recognizable value, capitalizing on networks, avoiding fragmentation of efforts and building balanced relationships.

From the beginning, it was clear that media as a whole fragmented their efforts to become an accepted deliberator in global governance. Corporate media dominated the Media Caucus, drowning out voices of non-traditional media. The latter attempted to form a complementary group that lobbied the Media Caucus for more inclusion, but even after the Community Media Working Group was forced to become a subgroup of the caucus, its efforts failed to sway corporate media players. Considered through a right–to-communicate lens, this fragmentation was unnecessary and harmful. It diverted efforts and energies away from what should have been all media’s primary concern – gaining more recognition and legitimacy from state actors at WSIS.

Building balanced relationships also was problematic. Thanks to the fragmentation of media, some players decided to remain within the official WSIS structures, while the We Seize actors explicitly removed themselves from official channels. Neither approach fully worked. We Seize participants must recognize that influencing summit outcomes would have been best achieved by maintaining some ties with official channels. Refusal to participate in global governance, yet demanding that institutions heed your opinions, is not an effective approach. The players that remained only within WSIS channels faired no better, however. A more balanced approach was needed between the two sides.

Additionally, better bottom-up relationships outside of WSIS and We Seize needed to be established. While WSIS provided access to official channels, the character of non-traditional media means players often are individuals without access to larger networks of allies. Especially for non-traditional media in developing countries, establishing better ties requires more on-the-ground work and recruitment. Some non-traditional media players may not even realize the existence of networks and press associations working on media rights, but by reaching out to these players, advocacy groups can help more non-traditional media benefit. Non-traditional media benefit at a larger level – and would have benefitted at WSIS – because there are more players globally talking about and debating the non-traditional media’s agenda for global governance inclusion.

Non-traditional media also failed to capitalize on opportunities to prove their added value to global governance. Providing a recognizable value – namely, acting where state and private actors do not – is a primary reason why NGOs have gained internal legitimacy in global governance. Non-traditional media did not use WSIS to achieve similar results. Non-traditional media provide unmistakable value – they tend to represent those ignored by traditional media, they provide space for diverse and divergent viewpoints, they are more participatory than traditional media, and as actors closely tied to communities, they are less likely to abandon issues and stories before they are resolved. Due to fragmentation and the dominance of traditional media at WSIS, it was harder for non-traditional media to publicize these added values. Additionally, many WSIS actors, especially states, have reason to stop non-traditional media from carrying out these tasks. Non-traditional media were dominated on all fronts at WSIS from advertising their added value and therefore other actors were less likely to consider media as diverse players with separate agendas.

Non-traditional media also failed to see gains in legitimacy because of unsuccessful framing efforts around WSIS. Advocacy networks and groups such as the Association for Progressive Communication did seek to capitalize on the political structure of institutions, such as when the Platform on Communication Rights launched the Communication Rights in the Information Society campaign. As Joachim (2003) suggests, the players actively mobilized activists and experts, engaged institutional actors and presented issues they found meaningful and actionable. Unfortunately, non-traditional media’s framing efforts were overrun by traditional media through a series of power plays that shut out non-traditional media’s concerns from being considered on a wide scale by other WSIS actors.

Furthermore, media in general lost the framing battle at WSIS. At Geneva, the main issues under discussions were the digital divide, open source software, intellectual property rights, Internet governance, human rights and media governance. Within these areas, delegates debated education, cultural diversity and security (Hintz, 2004). But by Tunis, the agenda was stripped to funding and Internet governance. As the organizer, ITU helped drive this agenda by focusing on technologies over information and communication. A combination of factors caused media’s agenda to be overrun at WSIS. First, the media participating arguably had more in common with the private sector than journalism concerns, so there little fight mounted when media issues were shut out. Second, the sheer number of other actors with an agenda apart from those in media managed to drown out traditional and non-traditional media concerns. These factors all combined to leave non-traditional media with unsuccessful framing efforts.

Finally, we come to networks, a highly crucial element to non-traditional media gaining global governance legitimacy and participation rights. Because so many non-traditional media actors are individuals with low levels of global governance expertise, networks present the best chance to use collective action to gain legitimacy and influence global governance proceedings. Throughout the build up to WSIS and during the summit parts, non-traditional media actors did use networks effectively. Both TANs and TPNs were used, creating the vital balance between advocacy and institutional connection nodes. Network members represented diverse players, from individuals to associations to advocacy groups. Members such as the Association for Progressive Communication brought expertise to navigate global governance environments, gain insider entry and establish relationships. But ultimately, a good use of networks was not enough for non-traditional media to overcome the other deficits seen in conditions identified for gaining global governance legitimacy. This suggests that a combination of most or all of the conditions must be met for non-traditional media to successfully gain legitimacy. Networks are the anchor that build upon the success of the other conditions and are absolutely vital, but they alone cannot grant non-traditional media global governance participation and legitimacy.


This paper sought to answer the question: why haven’t non-traditional media been recognized as legitimate players in global governance and been allowed to fully participate in deliberations? I have argued that certain conditions – successful framing, providing recognizable value, capitalizing on networks, avoiding effort fragmentation and building balanced relationships – are necessary for non-state actors to best gain global governance participation rights and legitimacy. Further, I have shown that non-traditional media failed to successfully meet these conditions within the context of WSIS, thus illustrating why non-traditional media did not gain legitimacy at that summit and continue to fail to do so.

Would non-traditional media have gained their sought-after legitimacy at WSIS if all of the conditions had been reasonably met? It is impossible to say. Civil society actors, and especially in media, were the least powerful players at WSIS and state and private interests still may have acted in concert to deny non-traditional media their legitimization. But I argue that non-traditional media would, at the very least, have come much closer to legitimization in global governance.

Non-traditional media, and indeed many non-state actors, can learn from the WSIS experience. By balancing relationships better and avoiding media fragmentation efforts in particular, non-traditional media can apply WSIS lessons in future global governance debates. This will be especially helpful should summit-level debates over communication arise again. Non-traditional media cannot afford to let another such opportunity slip by without asserting itself as an equal deliberator.

Scholars also have a role to play in this. A dearth of literature exists on the role non-traditional media plays in global governance. Far too many scholars treat media as a single entity, in a way they would never think to replicate when talking about businesses or governments with obvious power imbalances. By recognizing the role non-traditional media play, scholars will help progress the debate over non-traditional media’s value and role in future global governance deliberations.


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