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.
In my last blog post I wrote about the dangers of biased communication to a fair and level political playing field. In Western media systems the political polarization of media reporting (I hesitate to call it "news") is a somewhat recent phenomenon, but it's stark reality in countries where the media is owned by the government or a few influential political factions. Biased communication is not only problematic with regards to misinformation of the public.
In fragile states in particular biased communication can keep conflict alive, stir up unrest among the population, and endanger the formation of one unified idea of a nation. In fragile and post-conflict countries, communication, including the mass media, should ideally contribute to restoring a shared national identity and strengthen citizens' loyalty to their country. But consider the case of, for instance, Iraq: Ownership of private media is in the hands of competing political and ethnic factions. Their respective broadcasts reflect conflicting agendas, potentially widening the gap between Iraq’s communities, weakening a sense of national belonging and furthering the development of competing identities along sectarian lines, setting the country on a course of partition.
I am so fed up with public affairs broadcast media in the US right now that I avoid them as one would avoid a madman howling in the marketplace. The noise level is so high it deafens. Almost every public affairs broadcast is overrun by sundry shouters and ranters. They are called 'bloviators'. There is no middle ground on any issue, no penumbras. Everything is either black or white. The intensity is so great you are always hoping that the next election will lead to a lessening of the noise level. But, no, the intensity continues unabated. What is worse, leading broadcasters and political figures have given themselves permission to say anything...just about anything. To escape the vehemence of it all, I find myself retreating into the embrace of the BBC, France 24 and such outlets because (1) they cover the rest of the world as though it mattered, which it does, and (2) they don't threaten my equanimity with profligate intensity and verbal incontinence.
Communication is something of an ugly duckling in the social sciences – not many people take it seriously and not many people see the immediate relevance of the research. However, the study of public opinion is a good example to outline the immediate relevance of the field – and its future relevance.
- Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
- Social Sciences
- Public Sphere
- Public Opinion Tribunal
- Public Opinion
- Political Science
- Political Philosophy
- mass media
- James Mill
- Information Processing
- Information Dissemination
- Fourth Estate
- Communication Studies
- Communication Science
- Communication Research
- Charles Cooley
“The man who lacks sense enough to despise public opinion expressed in gossip will never do anything great” - this is from Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1822). It's no secret that at CommGAP, we're all big advocates for public opinion, nevertheless we need to be aware of some of the problems that public opinion poses in its role as political factor.
Everyone can think of examples of public opinion seemingly landing somewhat off the mark in elections, referenda, polls, or other manifestations of the public's will. Elites then tend to shake their heads in exasperation about what they might call "public ignorance."
As many readers will know, CommGAP has developed a couple of training courses. We now run these courses in partnership with the World Bank Institute. A few years ago, we began to commission technical briefs on various aspects of communication and governance for use in the training courses. They are quick, hopefully accessible introductions to various key topics in communication, especially political communication. Each brief was written by an expert in the field although we have not attached the names of the writers, these being our corporate products. We have decided to share these briefs more broadly. Please feel free use them as appropriate. We would appreciate comments on them as well.
It is generally accepted that independent news media are one of the main building blocks for good governance. Ensuring media’s independence from the control of the powerful is a difficult task, however. While the media must maintain a critical distance from the government so as to maintain their objectivity in reporting the news, they also need to stay close enough to government in order to access the information they seek. The issues of distance and access are the two sides of the same coin, and they confront the government as well. On the one hand, the government has to protect both the privacy of sensitive information and integrity of important decision-making processes by keeping the media at bay, but on the other hand, government also needs to maintain an amicable relationship with the media so that the media would tell its side of the story and frame issues in the way it wants them framed.
"Nonpublic opinions are at work in great numbers, and 'the' public opinion is indeed a fiction. Nevertheless, in a comparative sense the concept of public opinion is to be retained because the constitutional reality of the social-welfare state must be conceived as a process in the course of which a public sphere that functions effectively in the political realm is realized, that is to say, as a process in which the exercise of social power and political domination is effectively subjected to the mandate of democratic publicity."
The “Ladies Specials” are women-only commuter train recently launched in four Indian cities (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta). While not a new practice, public transport exclusively for women is becoming popular. (Mexico City introduced women-only buses in January 2008 and commuters on Japanese trains know a thing or two about this too.)
Harassment on the train or bus is not just an annoying nuisance for women. It influences a whether or not a woman chooses to enter the workforce in the first place. (Or maybe whether her family or husband will allow her.)
In today’s fast-paced digital environment, new forms of literacy are quickly emerging. It is not only a challenge to keep up with new tools and skills needed to stay informed and engaged in the world around us, but also to find the time and resources. While media literacy is not a new issue, it has quickly become an eminent one due to the fast speed and wide spread of information via new media technologies. As a matter of urgency, the European Commission has issued a new recommendation, pushing its member countries to make media education available to all citizens and include it as mandatory in the school curricula, as well as adopt media literacy as a key pre-requisite for active citizenship. While internet penetration is high in Europe, there is an evident skill gap between citizens of different age-groups and socio-economic backgrounds in using the internet and new technologies. The European Commission believes that this skill gap and media illiteracy can lead to missed opportunities and social exclusion, and therefore, it’s important to instill media literacy skills in all sections of society. One could possibly also argue that citizens would also be excluded from realizing their political rights. The Commission further suggests that media literacy would be “a stimulus and a pre-condition for pluralism and independence in the media”, leading to multiple perspectives and diverse opinions that will enrich public discussions and specifically, lead to “a positive impact on the values of diversity, tolerance, transparency, equity and dialogue.”