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authoritarian regimes

Quote of the Week: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Antonio Lambino's picture

“Even in the most authoritarian regimes around the world, people are listening to the opinions of their publics -- because those publics now have many more ways of expressing that opinion.  And so there’s  a growing effort to make sure that your views and your actions at home and abroad are aligned with what public opinion is.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, on Charlie Rose, aired on April 20, 2011

The Public Sphere Enters Public Discourse

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Building on Johanna's earlier post on social media, I thought I'd highlight a few points from Clay Shirky's new piece in Foreign Affairs, entitled "The Political Power of Social Media" (users must register). The essay is a thought-provoking contribution to the ongoing discussion about technology's political impact - and it also gives me an opportunity to clarify a few issues regarding my thinking on the Internet and authoritarian regimes.

Waging War on Open Societies (in the Name of Openness!)

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In my nearly two-decades of living in the West, I have always been fascinated by the operatic displays of rage directed by some activists and campaigners at open societies and democracies. They do this in a world where sundry totalitarian and authoritarian regimes are getting stronger, stamping on ordinary citizens with gigantic boots, and shutting down nascent public spheres with total ruthlessness. Some of these regimes are now major players on the world stage, and the brave souls who fight for openness, transparency and citizen voice in these societies get very little support. They are mostly on their own.

Yet who are we supposed to see as a hero right now? Answer: a computer hacker whose philosophy ranges from naive libertarianism to anarchism. And what are the self-evident truths that we are supposed to line up behind?

The Back-Handed Compliment

Sina Odugbemi's picture

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists have been killed so far in 2010, killed by those who want to silence them. 838 have been killed since 1992. The media are being hounded by authoritarian regimes in many countries still, including some of the most prominent countries in the world today.  And as my colleague, Tony Lambino, pointed out only last week, even the internet - once hoped to be the ultimate domain of free speech - is increasingly being mastered by illiberal regimes. They are finding the technological means to muzzle free speech even here. Some are employing thousands of police men and women dedicated to the task.

The Back-Handed Compliment

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is it true that the news media - when free, plural and independent - promote effective, responsive and accountable governance? Working with Professor Pippa Norris of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, CommGAP has produced a major study making the case  for Yes as rigorously as we can. That study is now being prepared for the printers, and should be available soon. Yet there are times when I think; why do we need to go to great lengths to make what should be an obvious point?

Media Strengthening: Taking Politics Seriously

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I have noticed over the years that groups working to strengthen media systems around the world concentrate their attention on donors active in international development. This is understandable for two reasons. Donors have money and you go to them if you want an initiative funded. Second, donors - either alone or collectively - have influence in many countries. Once in a long while, they are able to bring about change just by insisting on it and being prepared to fund the process of change.

But there is one big reason why donors alone cannot strengthen media systems, especially in authoritarian political systems. And that is power... the acquisition and retention of power.

A Malaysian Surprise?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You are familiar, I believe, with the authoritarian objection to a free, plural and independent media system. Authoritarian leaders always say: at this stage in the development of our country we cannot afford a free press. Too dangerous, you understand, too disruptive. Let's secure national unity first, let's get rid of poverty, let's be as rich as the West, then we can talk about a free press.  Or they deploy the cultural norms argument. This is Asia, they might say, and Asian values do not support imported notions like a free press, free speech and such nonsense. Others will say: this is Africa; we have to do what makes sense in Africa. A free press causes nothing but trouble. We can't afford that now.

Well, you can imagine my reaction when I read the following story in the New York Times of Thursday November 6: 'Malay Blogger Fights a System He Perfected'.

Public Opinion and Authoritarian Regimes

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is public opinion a force for good government or not? If recent events in Burma, Pakistan and Georgia show anything at all it is that public opinion is ultimately  the basis of power and legitimacy. Which is something several political philosophers have told us for over 200 years, but it is fascinating to watch these struggles unfold.

And it explains why authoritarian regimes are always keen to control public opinion by: