Convening Group Statements
International Steering Committee Statements
|Round Table III: Media and Democracy
Prepared by the Co-chairs of the Roundtable III (India, Czech Republic)
A Conceptual Approach
- Media of communication range from traditional media based on oral traditions to the modern technology based mass media.
- It also includes the Internet which incorporate the advantages of convergence to deliver content through the PC platform.
- The relationship between mass media and democracy is the focus.
- This is due to the impact these media have on range of issues affecting the society, the State and International/Intercultural relations.
- Electronic media have assumed significance and visibility in the present context.
- These media co-exist with traditional and oral interpersonal communication networks.
- The relationship between Media and Democracy is explained and understood on the basis of Anglo-Saxon experience and principles.
- Liberty, freedom and associated values at the individual level are emphasised.
- Media’s political role in established democracies is well recognized. USA and EU countries are often cited as examples.
- What are the ways in which media could contribute to democracy and democratization?
- Free media is essential to democracy;
- media should communicate objective information particularly in the political arena;
- This will enable citizens to participate in public political life;
- Media should be a means of expression for a full range of political interests and viewpoints;
- Media should act as a watchdog against abuse of power by public authorities;
- Media can also serve as a conduit for information coming from non-political and civil society groups including NGOs.
- According to World Bank Free media play three crucial roles in democratic governance:
- act as a civic forum and give voice to different parts of the society;
- as a mobilisng agent facilitate civic engagement among all sectors;
- as a watchdog check abuses of power and increase government transparency.
- Its report indicates that major advances in the spread of independent media have been made.
- Economic and political reforms have loosened restrictions on the media.
- Constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of information have been ensured.
- In the context of liberalisation and free market economies the question we need to ask is:
- Should the watchdog function of the media traditionally restricted to public offices and authorities be extended to private companies and corporations as well? If so will the media evolve sufficient mechanisms to incorporate this function-Corporate Social Responsibility?
Media and Developing Countries
- Developing countries are located in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
- One of the significant aspects of media content is news and current affairs. The other content is Entertainment.
- What constitutes news has been an issue of contention in the debates between news flows within and among different countries.
- Modern technologies make speedy dissemination of news easier.
- However, they do not take into account the perceptions of local audience about what is news worthy and important.
- Many journalists may not necessarily support the theories of western news values.
- For Global Journalism democracy or the changing face of it is a major story. For example, the elections in different countries of Africa was a major story. Endemic poverty is another focus. Ethnicization of Politics and multi-party democratisation is another area of focus.
- African media systems are very small urban phenomena. A majority of the population in African countries lives in the rural areas.
- Even in the urban areas the penetration and availability of the media is not uniform. Circulation of, for example, daily newspapers very small.
- Certain initiatives such as New Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) have taken initiative for Democracy and Political Governance.
- Community based media systems such as FM Radio are being used to cater to the needs of community.
- FM Radio and its technology allow various groups including civil societies to operate their own radio stations. The question of regulation of these stations is perhaps relevant.
- In Asia, especially in the ASEAN region an Asian model of journalism is proposed:
- The model expects the press to work with the government to build a national consensus.
- Malaysian Leader, Mahathir suggests that democracy does not mean that citizens can go wild. A socially responsible press that can compete in the market is acceptable.
- Malaysian ideology Rukunegara which stresses national unity, democracy, social equity, progressive thought and traditional culture is advocated.
- Other commentators, T.J.S George, for example suggest that it is neither prudent nor necessary to apply western yardsticks to make comparisons and decry one country and praise another.
- B.G. Verghese, a member of the International commission for the study of communication argues that freedom of the press is a human right and therefore free flow of information should be ensured.
- However, internationally these models are perceived to pose dangers to press freedom.
- The argument is that economic liberalisation is not necessarily accompanied by any great concern for press freedom and human rights.
- Better international communication flows particularly via broadcasting reinforce newer forms of political and economic governance.
- There is an increased international pressure to initiate reforms in the media sector keeping in view the market economics.
Military and Civilian Applications
- Technologies which were initially developed for military applications are inducted for civilian applications. Examples: Satellites and Arpanet.
- The example of Internet can be cited here which has found widespread acceptance in the civilian sector.
Internet: A New Communications Platform-Connections
- Africa 6.31 million
- Asia/Pacific 167.86 million
- Europe 185.83 million
- Middle East 5.12 million
- Canada & USA 182.67 million
- Latin America 32.99 million
- World Total 580.78 million
Contemporary Concerns and Issues
- Mass Media have substantially grown in their reach, influence and impact.
- Presence of International Media is evident. The global village syndrome is a reality.
- Dependence on international sources for news, entertainment, science and technology information is very high in among the developing countries.
- More international and global orientation of mass media has reinforced concerns about:
- Cross cultural perceptions about inherent social, cultural and political values;
- Further marginalisation of people and communities;
Free Press is Still an Issue
- Freedom of the Press is still a debatable issue.
- An Annual Freedom House survey assesses the extent and nature of freedom in different countries and provides a classification system. Region wise comparison is as follows.
- 25 countries with 62% of the world population have a free or a partly free press.
- 61 countries with 38% of the population still do not have a free press.
- Between 1970 and 1996 the number of dailies more than doubled in developing countries.
- About 60 copies of newspapers per 1000 people are available in the developing countries.
- The number of television stations increased 16 fold since 1970.
How Free is the Press?
- Other contentious issues are:
- How to regulate Internet content?
- How to legislate and debate media ownership issues with regard to the nature and extent of FDI in these sectors?
- For example, India has recently opened up FDI in the print media sector with some restrictions. Can these guidelines and restrictions be considered?
- How to deal with media during elections at the national, regional and local levels?
- The rise of the civil society movement (voluntary sector/NGO sector) has added another dimension to policy and democratisation.
- Should community media centres be set up, funded or encouraged.
- UNESCO, for example has initiated the concept of Community Multimedia Centres.
- These centres are intended to promote community empowerment and address the question of digital divide.
- Community broadcasting and Internet are sought to be combined.
A Few Questions for Discussion
- The role of electronic media in a democracy and their democratising potential is well established. What has been our experience in the use of electronic media in our nascent democracies?
- International communication is possible on a better pedestal now. Does it affect earlier concerns about representation, coverage and bias with regard to developing countries?
- It may be recalled that these questions were raised in the context of the desire to have a new information and communication order.
- Are Western conceptions and perceptions of news and media content universal?
- What are the alternative models of journalism?
- How can communication media address specific needs of nations?
- Can we negotiate and deal with the perception of international media that such alternatives are essentially a threat to the freedom of the press?
- Reforms are pushing for liberalisation of media related policies.
- How are we going to deal with:
- The above pertain to national concerns.
- How are we going to address the question of cultural diversity and multi-religious fabric of our societies from a communications/media perspective?
- How can regional blocks such as SAARC, ASEAN, NEPAD etc., address the question of media co-operation to strengthen intercultural communication patterns?
- The watchdog role of the media with regard to government and public offices is recognised. Will the media extend its watchdog role to the corporate sector as well?