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Free and Plural Media

The polluters of the public sphere

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Defending Freedom of Speech?As it should, the world is worrying about the pollution of the atmosphere and its deleterious impact on our planet, and efforts to do something about it all are, happily, intensifying. But there are pollutions and polluters of a different kind, and, sadly, there is no global effort as yet to do something about them. I refer to the polluters of national public spheres and the polluters of the global public sphere.

Let’s begin at the country level. What is going on is truly scary. In both developing countries and supposedly mature democracies more and more political leaders are giving themselves the permission to spout incendiary nonsense. Most political communities these days are deeply plural, often multiethnic, multinational or multi-sectarian, or all of the above. It was always understood that if you want peace and harmony in these political communities there are things major leaders or candidates for high office simply do not say; there are lines that they simply do not cross. Now, all these restraints are being sundered in several countries. Major figures are willing to say just about anything no matter how offensive or provocative.

In the supposedly advanced liberal constitutional democracies, the raw competition for power, the pressure of the migrant/refugee crisis, shifts in the composition of the electorate, all these things appear to be leading to an outbreak of demagoguery. There is a race to the bottom as right wingers seek to outbid frankly racist political parties. Rhetorical excesses are undoing the work of many decades in these societies. I refer to hitherto successful efforts to evolve norms of restrained and civil discourse in the public sphere, and to promote rationality in public affairs generally. Now, in more and more of these societies there seems to be a competition to see who can be the most brazen and offensive, to see who can go ‘there’ with the most reckless abandon.

The potential of reforming state broadcasters in divided societies: Advancing an unfashionable argument

James Deane's picture

BBC Media Action's Director of Policy and Learning argues for an urgent rethinking of what is often considered a relic of the past - the state broadcaster - to encourage discussion, dialogue and understanding across communities in fragile states.

Young child listens on a mobile telephoneMost commentaries on 21st-century media focus on the impact of new technologies, social media and, above all, the increasing global ubiquity of mobile telephony. Such commentaries highlight how in many, if not most, societies, the majority of people are under the age of 30 and are reinventing how humanity communicates with itself. The focus is on innovation, on digital replacing analogue, on an old order of mass, vertical forms of communication being supplanted by horizontal, digitally enabled networks.

Speaking personally, I have advanced at one time or another all these tenets and continue (mostly) to do so. This blog, however, marks the publication of a set of BBC Media Action policy and research outputs I’ve commissioned which collectively advance some unfashionable arguments.

We focus particularly on the role of media in fragile and divided societies and especially on what can be done to support media that transcends, rather than exacerbates, divisions in society. We argue that, for all the innovation, dynamism and potential that exists, there are growing signs that publics are less and less trusting of the media that is available to them. Media environments appear more dynamic, interactive and complex, but much of media – both traditional and social – exists to advance particular agendas or interests in society rather than to serve a public. 21st-century fragmentation of media environments has often been accompanied by an associated fracturing of media often owned, controlled or heavily influenced by particular political, factional, ethnic or religious interests. Such fracturing often applies to both social and traditional media.

Pluralism and Diversity for An Informed Citizenry

Fumiko Nagano's picture

Many of us become more convinced in our views on any given topic by bouncing them off of our sounding boards, whose worldview often mirrors our own. Feeling validated through these interactions, we march on with our perspectives unaltered. Troublingly, if we allow ourselves to interact only with our like-minded peers, these interactions can and do lead to viewpoints that are fixed, sometimes to the dismissal of all other alternative perspectives. This is the topic of Cass Sunstein’s article, “To Become An Extremist, Hang Around With People You Agree With.”

When the Filter Distorts, When the Prism Refracts

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Photo Credit: Flickr user fdecomiteOne of the foundational commitments of CommGAP is the belief that a national democratic public sphere is an essential and self-perpetuating part of the architecture of good governance. At the very heart of a democratic public sphere is a media system that is independent of government control and is both free and plural.