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political discourse

The technocrat and the demagogue

Sina Odugbemi's picture

To recap and settle our terms, the populist demagogues now emerging as leaders of governments around the world have a peculiar way of operating. At the core of their practice is a truculent nationalism that defines a part of the political community as the ‘real’ people. They claim to govern in the name of ‘the people’, as defined. They use polarization deliberately, even when in government; they define enemies and rail against these unceasingly in colorful language. They demonize The Other/ the Outsider. They are crude propagandists without the slightest regard for truth or logic or the rules of polite discourse. They can be both boorish and ridiculous…and they rejoice in the fact.

Now, typical technocrats or policy wonks are highly educated persons, usually with advanced degrees from excellent universities. These are minds that have been tilled, ploughed and cultivated to a sophisticated degree. They understand ideas. They have been trained to handle evidence with care. They have been taught the basic rules of logic, the nature of fallacious or tendentious reasoning etc. They also know the importance of public debate and discussion, of making your case vigorously but fairly, of avoiding lies, obfuscation and downright dishonesty. Finally, whatever the ideological commitments of these technocrats or policy wonks, they are not usually people who go around spouting racist or misogynistic views in public …no matter what they privately believe.

Yet, look around the world today, and you will notice that quite a few supposedly polished technocrats are working for brute demagogues. You listen to them and you wonder: How have you sold this gig to yourself, comrade?

Is the Political Interview Now so Boring it is Useless?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The political interview is supposed to be one of the cardinal moments when the news media contribute most directly to the quality of governance in a given country. Assuming that the media system is reasonably free, the political interview –particularly the broadcast versions on either radio or television – is a moment when the leading stars of the news media can:

  • Make political leaders and other news makers throw a bright light on the leading issues of the day;
  • Hold leaders accountable by asking tough questions regarding their stewardship of the affairs of the state; and
  • Speak truth to power.

It is now increasingly recognized, however, that the political interview is in trouble, even outside authoritarian political contexts (where regimes control broadcasting fiercely).  For an excellent recent take on the issue, please see this piece by Ian Katz, editor of BBC’s ‘Newsnight,’ ‘Boring Snoring?

Putting the "P" back in Poverty

Antonio Lambino's picture

For those of us who grew up in developing countries, political discourse about poverty is an everyday thing. Political campaigns in the Philippines, for example, place poverty upfront and center. Candidates for local posts, such as barangay (village) councilor, all the way up to the highest office in the archipelago invariably campaign on poverty issues. For instance, memorable slogans from relatively recent elections include "para sa mahirap" ("for the poor") and "pagkain sa bawat mesa" ("food on every table"). Not at all surprising in developing country contexts where poverty and inequality are so ubiquitous.

These reflections ran through my head as I attended a brown bag lunch CommGAP organized a couple of weeks ago on a Panos London publication entitled "Making poverty the story: Time to involve the media in poverty reduction", authored by Angela Wood and Jon Barnes. Presented by Barnes at the brown bag, it incorporates research findings from six African and Asian countries. The paper makes the case that mainstream media are essential in boosting public awareness and debate on poverty reduction.