Sometimes you go to a meeting and someone produces a moment of elegance, that is, a moment that neatly sums up an area of experience. I had such a moment recently at a meeting on Governance, Media and Accountability organized by the Salzburg Global Seminar. As often happens at such meetings, some of the sessions involve social media specialists educating 'digital migrants' like me (as opposed to the young people of today who are said to be 'digital natives') regarding all the cool new tools being developed. I always come away impressed, and happy to be educated on the subject, especially the tools that can deepen citizen engagement in policy and empower them to hold governments accountable. Some impressive possibilities are emerging, about which more later.
Information and Communication Technologies
"Constellations of Change
Media structures, laws, and policies are scarcely ever modified to find a more beautiful form, or even to develop a more efficient way to achieve commonly agreed-upon goals. Changes in structure, including changes in law, occur because of pressure from within industry, the society, and the government, from within or without the state... Because (the global communications system's) contours are important for the fundamentals of national identity, for trade, and the world political order, the shaping of it is a matter not only of domestic preference but also of international debate and foreign policy."
On Facebook, I have noticed an interesting trend: some of my friends who are normally introverted and shy in person are a lot more vocal and seem to have fewer qualms about voicing their opinions on the site. They post status updates sharing their thoughts on issues, comment on others’ posts, and provide links to websites, articles, photos and videos about topics that they deem important, even creating interest-specific groups to attract those who are keen to participate in online discussions on key causes. Part of this phenomenon might be psychological. Maybe we feel a certain degree of safety on social networking sites because they give us the option not to have to engage in physical, face-to-face interactions with those who might disagree. On these interfaces, there is no need to worry about potentially negative consequences arising from differences in opinion, such as ridicule, humiliation, confrontation, and isolation. If social networking sites can embolden even the shiest of us to voice our true opinions, could they be the answer to breaking the spiral of silence on contested issues?
The potential that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have to contribute to economic growth in developing countries is undeniable. In terms of what ICT in general and e-government in particular can do specifically to improve governance and accountability, we often hear about their positive impact on government transparency and responsiveness, on government efficiency and effectiveness, and finally, on citizen access to information, services, and opportunities.
A CommGAP colleague and I recently spent a week in Kampala, Uganda, to attend a workshop with communication and media research teams from 14 African and Asian countries. These country teams make up the BBC World Service Trust’s Research & Learning (R&L) Group, headed by Dr. Gerry Power, who also manages an expert group in their London head office.
More than 15 development-oriented projects were presented during the workshop, including media productions, capacity building and training efforts, and public information and advocacy campaigns.
More than a decade has passed since Indonesia embarked on the transition from authoritarian rule to building democratic institutions. This week, CommGAP met with Santoso, Managing Director of KBR68H, a Jakarta-based radio news agency founded in 1999, at the dawn of the country’s democratic transition. In addition to its long roster of domestic and international awards, KBR68H is the first media and Southeast Asian organization to receive the King Baudouin International Development Prize, named after the former king of Belgium (click here for a video on KBR68H prepared by the prize sponsor).
In most of the post-industrial democracies of the global north there is a growing worry about the fate of newspapers. Many are dying or in trouble, including some venerable titles. Agonizing essays are being written about all this, and the issue is dominating more and more seminars on the future of democracy.
In the wake of the massive and horrific natural disasters in Myanmar and China, it is important to examine how the provision of humanitarian relief relates to issues of voice and accountability. In a general sense, communication should be an absolutely vital element of any relief effort.