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Saturday, 1 January 2011

Who is responsible for democracy?

For me this question is absolutely core. It influences my behaviour on a daily basis and is a source of much frustration. I am going to examine the relationship between the public, the media and politicians and the effect this has on the quality of democracy.

The problem with democracy, friends, is that it belongs to us all. We are all of us responsible for keeping it healthy.

I very strongly believe that a politically active electoral is a vital part of the functioning of democracy. By politically active I don't just mean an electorate that votes, though in this country higher turnouts would be a good start!

I define a politically active electorate as an electorate who engage with the issues of the day. People who critically assess the information that comes their way and then forms good quality opinions with depth. People who look for truth and reason, people who engage with their local communities. People who don't just moan about bad things, but try to be part of a solution.

I believe that a politically active electorate, in their search for good quality information to fuel their well-formed opinions, must surely lead to a good quality media. The demand for real news must be met and the overall quality of reporting improve. The process may be slow, but it would happen.

This is in contrast to the current situation whereby so many seek news as entertainment: news to be angry or outraged at, news to shake their head about, news to say "have you heard.." and have a gossip about. News about things which make them annoyed but about which they ask no questions and conduct no basic analysis of. Certainly not news which makes them get up and make a change.

It is my view that the demand for news as entertainment and the subsequent dumbing down of almost all media outlets directly contributes to the situation that so many people are upset about:

Lying, cheating, fiddling, untrustworthy politicians.

Is it really a surprise that when we demand so little from our press, in turn our press demands so little from our politicians? Instead of focussing on the big issues we get media orchestrated scandals. Instead of in depth debates of contributing factors we get a celebrity culture. Instead of the real issues of the day we get diversions. And we lap it up.

A good quality media is vital part of maintaining accountability of politicians. To get a good quality media we have to demand it. We have to gravitate to those channels and publications which provide good quality reporting and move away from those that do not.

Of course, a politically active electorate could lead to all kinds of other wonderful things: more community based solutions, more accountability on the election trail, a higher voter turnout, more debate with more sensible outcomes.

The view of an idealist perhaps, but I don't think it is particularly crazy to suggest people start taking responsibility for assessing the information that they are fed. Look for truth.

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