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Democracy

Democracy only works if we show up

Roxanne Bauer's picture

There are parallel and equally unsettling trends occurring worldwide: trust in media is falling as people are increasingly unable to discern credible information while trust in national governments worldwide (although with more pronounced distrust in developed countries) is also deteriorating.

The 2017 Edelman Barometer, for the first time, found that three-quarters of the 28 countries surveyed were categorized as “distrustful” of government, business, media and non-governmental organizations.

Globally, public confidence in institutions has dropped by more in the past year than in any other since the financial crisis in 2009. Media are seen as part of the elite class, who govern.

Trust in media plunged from 51% to 43%, an all-time low for the index, with the sharpest falls in Australia, Canada, Colombia, and Ireland. As the reputation of traditional media declines, people are shifting towards the internet for news, the results showed. Online search engines were deemed more reliable than traditional media for information, a reversal from five years ago.

Likewise, a survey of 300 government communication chiefs from 40 countries, found there has been considerable declines in trust for national governments. The study, entitled Leader’s Report: The Future of Government Communications, finds that just as the internet has transformed media, it has also transformed the role of government as providers of information. Governments are now struggling to keep pace with how modern voters gather information and form their opinions. since governments rely on the consent and trust of the people for their legitimacy and authority, falling levels of trust in government is a key issue facing government communicators. 
 
These trends simultaneously reinforce one another, inhibiting dialogue among citizens and with the government, contributing to disengagement among publics, and impeding policies that require informed publics.
 
So, what is a citizen to do if they’d like to cut through the noise to see more transparency and accountability?  Australian journalist Claire Connelly offers this concise, erudite answer: be vocal, participate, and check facts because democracy only works if we show up.

Governance in the Age of Digital Media and ‘Public Sector Branding’

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the years that I have been working with international development professionals (especially the governance specialists),  I have been baffled by the refusal of many of them  to see the central importance of communication systems as well as communication approaches and techniques to the glories, and the pathologies, of governance systems around the world. So, I have tried to contribute in a small way to the evidence base on the subject by joining others to produce publications like Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform (edited by Pippa Norris), Accountability through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action (edited by Sina Odugbemi and Taeku Lee) and Making Politics Work for the Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement (an effort led by my esteemed colleague, Stuti Khemani). My convictions on the subject arose from having worked in the media and interacted with leaders of governments across West Africa and thereafter working for the government of the UK and seeing how much the media matters to leaders, especially how strong government communication capacity is now at the bladed edge of state effectiveness.

The good news is that political scientists are increasingly taking the phenomenon seriously and studying it. For instance, in the January 2017 edition of Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions there is an excellent article titled: “Governance in the Age of Digital Media and Branding “by Alex Marland, J.P. Lewis, and Tom Flanagan, all from three different Canadian universities. I really enjoyed the piece because it is on all fours with my experience inside government. Through a thorough analysis of the Canadian example, especially the years that the Conservatives ruled Canada (2006-2015), the authors are able to make their general point. It is as follows:

The proliferation of Internet connectivity, smartphones, and digital media is revolutionary for society and governance. Political events and information can increasingly be viewed live from almost anywhere. Issues management personnel are branching out from worrying about tomorrow’s headlines to dealing with the last five minutes’ tweets and Instagram posts, and the forward march of technological change suggests that we are on the cusp of real-time media and image management. Continual communications control is the new reality of governance. (p. 125) {Emphasis mine}.

Quote of the week: Fareed Zakaria

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The world has been transformed by the globalization of goods, services, and information, all of which have produced their share of pain and rejection. But we are now witnessing the globalization of people, and public reaction to that is stronger, more visceral, and more emotional."  

- Fareed Zakaria - host of CNN's international affairs program Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Quoted in Foreign Affairs print edition November/December 2016 "Populism on the March."

Break it and see: norms of good governance and the wobbly protection of public opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Events around the world (on this please see Freedom in the World 2017) are teaching us at least two astounding lessons. The first is that in liberal constitutional democracies good governance is far more dependent on norms, particularly constitutional conventions, than formal rules. This has serious implications. The second lesson is that when certain political actors choose to ignore the norms of good governance …and the details vary depending on the context…it is not at all clear that anything can stop them. Let’s take these two issues one by one.

Norms, conventions, formal rules

In his classic work, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution the great English jurist, A.V. Dicey, introduced a distinction between what he called constitutional laws and the conventions of the constitution. Constitutional law, he pointed out, consists of rules that the courts will enforce. But there are other constitutional rules:

The other set of rules consist of conventions, understandings, habits, or practices which, though they may regulate the conduct of other officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the Courts. This proportion of constitutional law may, for the sake of distinction, be termed the ‘conventions of the constitution’, or constitutional morality.

Judith Tendler and learning from ‘good government’

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

On 24th July 2016, Judith Tendler, former Professor at the Department of Urban studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, passed away. She was 77. A Ph.D holder from Columbia University, Judith Tendler spent several years at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) before a long career as a Professor in MIT. A significant share of Prof. Tendler’s work focused on the Americas, but she also studied South Asia and parts of Africa over her long career.

Prof Tendler’s book: ‘Good Government in the Tropics’ (1997) is one of the most influential books in the field of international development — an essential reading for students of governance and public policy studies. In the book, Prof Tendler and her research associates studied four cases of successful government in Ceara, a relatively poor state in north-eastern Brazil. In each of the cases, the government at different levels played an effective role, facilitating and brokering relationships, and submitting itself to mechanisms which could be used to hold themselves accountable. Those were rare, but rich, examples of ‘good government’.

These cases highlighting the achievements of ‘good governments’ challenged the dominant pessimistic thinking about governance in the so-called ‘third world’. Prof Tendler argued that much of the advice from international development agencies to developing countries was based on an analysis of poor performance of the public sector and governments. This resulted in a tendency to ‘import’ good practices from the successful developed countries, as well as a resistance to looking deeply into poor countries to identify variations in performance. In many ways Prof Tendler consistently challenged the pre-suppositions that development agencies and policy advisors nurtured and which, as a result, shaped the advice they dispensed into narrow straitjackets often unfit for the context in which they were to be applied.

Can the middle class really guarantee good governance?

Sina Odugbemi's picture
When social scientists and historians look back on the transformation in the quality of governance that took place in, first, Great Britain and, later, much of Europe in the course of the long 19th century, one explanatory factor often stands out: the rise of a large enough middle class.  What is large enough is, of course, a question of fact, and varies depending on the particular country context. This explanation is often contested, but it has stuck. People refer, for instance, to the revolts against monarchies that occurred across Europe around 1848 as the middle class revolutions. The sense that this explanation makes sense is so strong that when you attend seminars on improving governance in developing countries at some point or the other someone is bound to say: “Let’s be patient folks. Once these countries have a large enough middle class the pressure for improved governance will be unstoppable.”

I write about this now because I have just read an essay by Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development that restates the view with some sophistication. Please see: “Middle –Class Heroes: The Best Guarantee of Good Governance.” The essay is worth reading in full. I am going to focus only on her core case. Key quote:
Having a large middle class is also critical for fostering good governance. Middle-class citizens want the stability and predictability that come from a political system that promotes fair competition, in which the very rich cannot rely on insider privileges to accumulate unearned wealth. Middle-class people are less vulnerable than the poor to pressure to pay into patronage networks and are more likely to support governments that protect private property and encourage private investment. When the middle class reaches a certain size – perhaps 30 percent of the population is enough – its members can start to identify with one another and to use their collective power to demand that the state spend their taxes to finance public services, security, and other critical public goods. Finally, members of a prospering middle class are unlikely to be drawn into the kinds of ethnic and religious rivalries that spur political instability. (Italics mine.)
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Anticorruption blog
International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.
 
Wall Street Journal
The ubiquity of cellphones could allow a rapid expansion of financial services throughout the developing world, with major implications for growth and credit accessibility, a McKinsey & Co. report concludes. “With the technology that’s available today you could provide billions of people and millions of businesses opportunities that don’t exist to them today,” Susan Lund, co-author of the McKinsey Global Institute report on digital finance, said in an interview. The report found that with coordinated action by financial firms, telecommunications companies and developing-country governments, some 1.6 billion people could gain access to financial services by 2025, all without major new expenditures on physical infrastructure.
 

Media (R)evolutions: New Publications on Media Development around the World

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Twice a year, CAMECO, a consultancy specializing in media and communications, publishes a list of selected publications on media and communications in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. This rich resource includes 250 titles, covering recent media developments and project experiences in about 150 countries worldwide. Many of the titles can be downloaded directly.
 
The following topics are covered in the January – June 2016 edition:
 

> Audience Research & Media Use
> Children & Media, Youth & Media, Media Literacy
> Christian & Religious Communication
> Cinema & Media Entertainment
> Community Media & Citizen Journalism
> Conflicts, Media & Peacebuilding
> Democracy, Governance & Media, Political Communication
> Development Communication, Environmental Communication, Health Communication
> Disaster & Humanitarian Crisis Communication
> Economics & Management of Media
> Freedom of the Press, Media Policies, Media Legislation
> Gender & Media
> International Communication, Foreign News, Public Diplomacy
> Journalism & Journalism Training
> Media Assistance
> Media Landscapes, Media & Communication General, Media & Society

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Gasoline, Guns, and Giveaways: Is the End of Three-Quarters of Global Poverty Closer than You Think?
Center for Global Development

Amartya Sen’s famous study of famines found that a nation’s people died not because of a food shortage but because some people lacked entitlements to that food. In a new CGD working paper with Chris Hoy, we ask if a similar situation is now the case for global poverty: are national resources available but not being used to end poverty?  The short answer is yes (but don’t stop reading…). We find that approximately three-quarters of global poverty, at the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day, if not higher poverty lines, could now be eliminated—in principle—via redistribution of nationally available resources.

People-Powered Media Innovation in West Africa
Omidyar

As media ecosystems in West Africa are increasingly diversifying and opening up after decades of state control, innovative and independent journalism is advancing government transparency and accountability. New opportunities for funders are opening in tandem, with potential for both social and economic impact. This report explores several of these opportunities, surfaced through in-depth research on Nigeria and Ghana. While both countries lead the region in terms of both economic and media development, they operate under many of the same dynamics and constraints that exist across West Africa, and show how other markets may evolve, politically and commercially.
 

The “voice of the people” is a fearsome thing

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The form of rule known as liberal constitutional democracy – the high achievement of the Enlightenment – is under attack almost everywhere these days by people claiming to represent that most fearsome of things: the voice of the people. This claim is made in a self-justificatory, there-is-no-arguing-with-that manner. All that opponents have to do is bow to the force, the power, and the majesty of, you guessed it, the voice of the people.

This is no ideological divide here. Populists on the right are making the claim as they push for the unchallenged sway of the genuine interests but also the grievances and prejudices of a portion of “the people” which they claim is “all the people”. Spot the slick rhetorical move. Populists on the left make the same claim as they agitate for the genuine interests but also the grievances and prejudices of another (but sometimes overlapping) portion of “the people” which they too claim is “all the people”. The same slick rhetorical move. What is left unsaid is a blunt claim: “The people I represent are the only ones that matter in this political community, and what they want takes priority over all else.”

There is a second rhetorical move that these populist leaders make, especially if, as often happens, they have acquired charismatic authority. It is the elegant dance from the “we” to the “I”. When these populist movements erupt the leaders say “we” a lot, but after a while they become the embodiment (or so they claim) of the “will of the people” and to oppose them is, they suggest, to oppose “the people”. The leaders of nationalist movements make this move easily. Once the “we” becomes the “I” these leaders become truly powerful and dangerous. If you oppose them they can unleash a mob on you, even if the mob is only online. And if they win power, to oppose them is treason. Mere criticism of the leader can land you in jail, and this is happening in some contexts as we speak.


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