The history of IAMCR begins with the first years of Unesco immediately after World War II. In 1946 Unesco proposed to set up an “International Institute of the Press and Information, designed to promote the training of journalists and the study of press problems throughout the world”. This initiative was marked by the idealism that had also inspired the founding of the United Nations.
At this time in the mid-1940s, the mass media included mainly the press, radio and cinema –as television was still at an experimental stage. Given their role during the war, the mass media were being recognized as an important factor in many fields, including international relations. One of the first special conferences organized by the United Nations in April 1948 was devoted to the freedom of information. This was where the famous Article 19 on Freedom of Expression and Information was drafted as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This now famous Article was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December of the same year. IAMCR can proudly claim that two of its founders and former Presidents –Fernand Terrou and Jacques Bourquin– were actively involved in drafting Article 19 during the UN Conference on Freedom of Information.
A decade passed before the IAMCR was established. One reason for this slow progress was the rapid deterioration of East-West relations and the onset of the Cold War in the late 1940s. Issues related the role of public opinion and the media were sensitive not only in domestic politics but became increasingly controversial in international relations, not least with respect to “the ideologies of freedom”. In addition, the International Press Institute (IPI) was established in 1951 as an international association of newspaper editors and publishers in the Western world and representing the “Free world” as opposed to the “Communist world”. At this stage Unesco refrained from promoting the establishment of a separate research association anticipating that the IPI would meet this need when it undertook, for example, a content analysis of the international news flows.
However, the IPI’s limited geopolitical and thematic base soon became obvious to all. Unesco realized that in addition to press freedom there were other issues in the growing field of mass communication, particularly relating to journalism education, which would benefit from internationally coordinated activity by a separate organization. In 1952 Unesco returned to this topic, setting out two lines of activity: setting up training centres for journalists and establishing an international organization for the promotion of scientific research on mass communication. In May 1953 a meeting of journalism teachers from Western Europe and the USA was held in Amsterdam and, at the end of the same year, Fernand Terrou submitted a memorandum from the French Institute of the Press on the theme to Unesco.
Meanwhile, in 1952, the Unesco Secretariat had established a Clearing House within its Department of Mass Communication “to collect, analyse and disseminate information on press, film, radio and television, pointing out their use for educational, cultural and scientific purposes”. This Clearing House began to publish a series “Reports and Papers on Mass Communication”, which in December 1956 issued title No 21: Current Mass Communication Research – I. This included a register of ongoing research projects and a bibliography of books and articles published since early 1955, both divided into eight topics relating to mass communication such as history; economic and legal aspects; government information and propaganda services; advertising and public relations; psychological and sociological studies on mass communication and public opinion, including the pedagogical and cultural role of mass communication. The mass communication research in progress included a list of nearly 400 projects in 14 countries, while the bibliography listed some 800 publications in 25 countries. This impressive research panorama was compiled with the aid of a questionnaire sent to 32 selected institutions in 19 countries. The data gathering was helped by national clearing houses established in France, Japan and the USA. The process encouraged the setting up of clearing houses in other countries, beginning with West Germany and Italy.
1956 was a crucial year for developments under the aegis of Unesco. In April a meeting of experts on the professional training of journalists was held at the Unesco headquarters in Paris. This meeting of 40 professors and other media experts, with accompanying documents and resolutions, demonstrated that there indeed existed a dynamic field of research and training in need of international coordination – a list of establishments for professional training of journalists included 100 institutes from the USA alone and nearly 100 more from some 30 other countries. In November-December of this year the General Conference of Unesco held in New Delhi adopted a resolution “to promote the coordination of activities of national research institutes in the field of mass communication in particular by encouraging the establishment of an international association of such institutes”. Directly after this General Conference a colloquium took place in Strasbourg, where the International Centre for Higher Education in Journalism had been established.
It was on this occasion in Strasbourg in December 1956 that a preparatory group called the “Interim Committee” (Comité Intérimaire) was formed by four dedicated colleagues:
- Fernand Terrou, Director of the French Institute of the Press and President of the French Association for Communication Sciences
- Mieczyslav Kafel, Director of the Institute of Journalism at the University of Warsaw
- Marcel Stijns, Editor in Chief of the Belgian journal Het Laatste Nieuws and Vice President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
- David Manning White, Professor of Journalism at the University of Boston and Chairman of Council on Research of the Association for Education in Journalism (AEJ)
The Committee was chaired by Terrou, who invited Jacques Kayser, Director of Research at the French Institute of the Press, to serve as its executive secretary. Jacques Bourquin was not a member of the Committee, but as spokesman of the French-speaking press in Switzerland he lobbied strongly for IAMCR within the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ – the predecessor of today’s World Association of Newspapers, WAN). Unesco did not favour Bourquin’s inclusion in the Interim Committee lest it appear that French or Francophone interests were over-represented. A hidden and perhaps more relevant reason was that Bourquin had taken sides in an earlier dispute within Unesco against the then director of the Department of Mass Communication. This is a classic example of how subjective factors can intervene in institutional history: Bourquin was a decisive player in rallying the media industry behind IAMCR, while Unesco excluded him from the Interim Committee – most likely because of personality conflicts in the past.
Unesco formally confirmed its recognition of the Interim Committee which met in Paris in April 1957. The tasks to be carried out by the new Association were now foreseen to include not only general promotion of international contacts within the field but also specific clearing house functions such as the production of bibliographies and lists of institutions as had been ptrepared in Unesco’s inventory. The Committee prepared a draft constitution (Statutes) and sent two circular letters out to potential participants. It convened the founding conference in December – after the IPI had held its conference in Asia (Colombo) in November.
A prelude to the constituting conference was the first course offered in the Strasbourg Centre in October-November 1957 where the picture was taken of the five founding fathers. The picture was kindly provided by Hifzi Topuz, who himself was photographed two years later in the company René Maheu –the Director-General of Unesco during the period that IAMCR was founded.
In summary, once mass communication, like other fields of socio-economic activity, had reached a certain level of importance and specialization in society, this led to an institutionalization of the field, both nationally and internationally.
Accordingly, IAMCR grew out of a rapidly developing media field, particularly with respect to journalism, which created its own branch of institutional interests and a need for professional education as well as for scientific research. As Terrou wrote in Etudes de Presse, the periodical of the French Institute of the Press, in 1956: “The professional training of journalists and the science of communication are the agenda of the day” and he added: “This is very good for the freedom of information”. So for Terrou, as for Bourquin, IAMCR represented not only a technical project to promote training and research, but also an ideological project to serve a broader cause aimed at fostering peace and freedom in an international order.
In terms of its focus, IAMCR initially concentrated first and foremost on journalism and mass communication – rather than, for example, on speech communication (which had a long academic tradition in the USA), nor on telecommunication (which at the time remained largely a technical subject). The actors involved were predominantly academics, with a strong presence of professional journalists as well as those from the media industry, particularly the printed press. Newspaper proprietors had an interest in supporting the setting up of IAMCR - something that proved to be compatible with the establishment of the IPI, even though there was a potential for a conflict of interests in the early 1950s.
The springboard for IAMCR was a combination of training needs and the growth of research in mass communication. In this field, unlike, for example, in political science, the emergence of a scientific association occur not only at the level of academic research – nationally and internationally. From the beginning mass communication research has been inseparable from the training of communicators, especially journalists – unlike the case of political science which has played only a very small role in the training of politicians. However, while training was crucial for ensuring that the research interests received international recognition, in order to set up an international research association it was necessary for the areas of training and research to be separated.
Geopolitically, IAMCR had a broad – indeed a universal – base with institutions and individuals from all continents affiliated with it. There is no doubt that the initiative was dominated by Europeans, particularly the French, but colleagues from countries such as Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Egypt, Israel, India, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, the USA and Canada were also involved. The new Eastern Europe behind the so-called Iron Curtain was represented by leading academics from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, making the IAMCR configuration more balanced than, for example, the IPI or the two international associations of professional journalists, IOJ representing mainly the East and the South, and IFJ representing mainly the West; both nonetheless cooperated closely with IAMCR. Accordingly, IAMCR was not a Cold War project. On the contrary, it was founded on ecumenical soil crossing the East-West as well as the North-South divides.
A short biography of IAMCR's first President, then Secretary General, is provided here.