ICT solutions to foster freedom of expression

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The role of ICT-powered audience-controlled media to foster the structural democratization of media systems

by Rufo Guerreschi, PARTECS Participatory Technologies

Of course, freedom of expression is an undeniable requirement for a free journalist, and therefore for a free and democratic society. Systematic denials of such freedoms are rightfully denounced by democratic governments and western NGOs.

Such denouncements, however, sound overly public and ostentatious, when compared to the deafening silence they maintain about two more structural shortcomings of contemporary media systems: the lack of freedom of information; and the lack of democratic control over media systems and organizations.

These have the effect to reduce the value of freedom of expression, where it is guaranteed, to the value of the freedom of voting in autocratic societies.

What is the use of freedom of expression, if I cannot inform myself on what is and what is not?
What is the use of speaking or writing great ideas and important truths if hardly anyone will hear?

The lack of freedom of information

All journalists are structurally prevented access or, worse, given distorted or false access, to fundamental information about the most critical contemporary global and national issues. Journalists, therefore, can hardly express any useful syntheses or opinions if they miss relevant, correct and verifiable information about such issues.

Delays to the public release of certain informations, and therefore temporary limits to freedom of expressions, are rightfully put in place in democratic societies. Their goal, in principle, are to foster trade innovation, individual privacy and collective threat prevention. These reasons, however, often become lying excuses as governments and corporations, legally and illegally, abundantly extend the duration, the scope and the applicability of those delays.

The lack of democratic control over the media system and organizations.

The most pervasive, powerful and structural of such shortcomings, and therefore most forcefully denied and falsified by (media) power elites, is the thoroughly undemocratic character of the what academics call The Political Economics of Journalism .

The legally-sanctioned econo-political dynamics of the media system ensure an indirect but, on the long term, extremely firm control on the prevailing story , the public mind, the public opinion, the agenda, the acceptable range of opinions.

Media production and distribution are almost exclusively controlled by large economic groups, executive branches of governments and other powerful organizations. This control is exercised in more or less direct manner through: rigid vertical chains of command and control, direct control over main media revenue sources, heavy private subsidizing, and more.
These groups use the resulting power over public opinion formation to further their interests and the interests of other media power holders, by tacit accord to not interfere with reciprocal interests.

TV and print media tell us obviously that there is nothing wrong with the current system and that little improvements are anyway on their way sometime in the future, but any structural change is neither possible nor desirable. Let's see if that is really the case ...

Are solutions possible?

Chomsky made a very encouraging statement in a recent interview, that may help us find answers to this question: It is natural that those who benefit from the organization of state and private power will portray it as inevitable, so that the victims will feel helpless to act .

Are such demands really radical?

In fact, there are many indications that these views are much more widely shared than the prevailing opinions in the media make us believe.

During the 2000 and 2004 US Presidential Elections, Ralph Nader, a long time consumer rights activists and independent green party candidate, achieved an average of 7-9% of preferences in the polls during the months preceding the elections, notwithstanding a total media coverage black out on its campaign.

In his official online campaign manifesto, both in 2000 and 2004, under the Media Policies section, he proposed, among other things: the reversion of some organized time on our publicly owned airwaves to establish audience-controlled radio and TV networks to ensure the diversity of voices and solutions necessary for a really free press and a true civic democracy .

Solutions: current and future political practice

As these negative dynamics have increased dramatically in recent years, a growing number of NGOs, academics and other organizations are portraying the strong democratization of media systems as a urgent political action required to stop and hopefully reverse the rapid loss of democratic control in our societies.

Increasingly, political organization or individuals exposing these views or promoting such goals, are aggressively ignored and attacked by media powers. For this reason, many such groups have recently understood that they have to make their own media (and make it good media!) in order to hope to get the message out to the general public in a large scale.

Most of these, however, do not always apply democratic principles in the ways they manage their organizations and the ways they produce and managed their internal and public news; a blatant contradiction that, understandably, often undercuts their appeal to the eyes of the general public, and creates severe organizational problems as the organizations scale (for example, the Indymedia experience).

A few leading organizations are trying to practice what they preach by enacting internally such principles through various models of direct and indirect democratic media management.

These non-profit and member-financed organizations are, therefore, attempting to realize audience-controlled media while promoting media democratization:

They discuss, draft and campaign-for wide-ranging legislative frameworks for strong democratization of governmental, private and public media sectors.

They create, practice and design models of democratic self-management and audience-controlled media production.

We, among other social software organization, believe in the huge political potential of such political practices when practiced in large scale networks or organizations and when powered by innovative ICTs which enable and facilitate such innovative democratic media processes across distance, language and time.

Many software solutions and organizations are emerging offering very innovative communication functionalities. Our technologies, which is permanetly shown here at the UNESCO stand throughout the Summit, solve important outstanding problems which were not being tackled by others, in particular they:

Allow for a large extent of customization of the democratic process that may be experimented and put in practice.

Allow for equal participation to the system by all alphabetized people through mail and automated telephone systems, therefore almost completely bridging the digital divide.

Allow for people speaking different languages to cheaply participate in the same democratic processes, thorough semi-automated asynchronous translation work flows.

Are distributed under innovative FLOSS licenses that ensure the mandatory free access of even any modified version of the technology within 12 months of anyone's use.

article originally published at .
The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey