The Advantages and Disadvantages of the "New Medias" Such as the Internet and Talk Radio for Democratic Governance in the U.S.
Mass medium has always functioned as the much-need link between the people and government in a democracy. The print media had been providing this link traditionally in the United States, until about 70 years ago, when President Roosevelt introduced the radio medium to connect directly and instantly with scores of Americans across the nation. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy furthered this by effectively utilizing the power of television as a visual communications medium. Today, candidates and representatives of every political affiliation are tapping the power of the Internet to communicate and interact with citizens
Steve Forbes was the first presidential candidate to proclaim his bid for office over the Internet in1999.
George W. Bush was the first presidential candidate to publish a full list of his campaigners and agenda online.
Bill Bradley extensively used the Internet to state his political agenda and major policy announcements.
David Belson in his paper-- The Network Nation Revisited-- remarks, "Grass-roots political movements, thanks to the electronic interconnection of millions of people, are now more powerful than ever before. Supporters of candidates, as well as the candidates themselves, can now share information in a matter of minutes."
The Internet, no doubt, offers great potential to both citizens and the legislators in a democratic system of government. The Internet allows citizens to connect and communicate with elected officials more directly and cost-effectively than ever. It offers the advantage of emailing individual grievances as well as representing collective opinions and suggestions on current laws. Senators are also benefited in that they can communicate more directly and effectively with the constituents and update themselves on the day-to-day problems of the state they represent, despite physical distances. Increasingly, the Internet is being employed as a medium for citizens to organize and express their views, a much-needed machinery for the effective functioning of a democracy. One of the main benefits, perhaps the most powerful democratic features of the Internet, is the ability to find others with similar interests. The Internet provides the means of joining a newsgroup on such topics, and to communicate and discuss the issue with the people there, either publicly or privately.
Today, the political and other Web sites and portals provide interested citizens with the up-to-the-minute information that is essentially influencing the way citizens inform themselves enabling them to involve in important issues, more than ever before. Technologies are available facilitating the comparison of a voter's views on issues with the political stands of candidates, enabling the voter to make more informed decisions during election. Internet is also being considered to serve as a platform for voter registration and online voting. However, security, reliability, equitable access, and privacy are aspects that would need to be addressed before online voting becomes a reality. Though the Internet would not replace the polling booth, with participation of voters in elections at all time lows -- especially among young people -- online voting tenders the possibility of increased involvement of both youth and others in the electoral process.
However, the employment of Internet as the medium of public response and feedback in a democratic system pose very fundamental concerns, with definite a set of disadvantages. For the effective functioning of democratic institutions it is imperative that everyone who might be affected by an issue takes part in the discourse and discussion, all have equal, free interaction on any topic, and the outcomes of the discussions is negotiable. Unfortunately the medium of Internet and other recent technology oriented communication mediums do not ensure these essentialities. There is significant indication that access to the Internet and high technology is not uniform across different sections of the society being basically influenced by income, education, physical location, and racial and ethnic background.
Most people living in low-income areas and belonging to racial and ethnic minorities does not own computers and are not accessible to Internet and its potentialities in a democracy. Free interaction on public issues is also influenced by language, gender, prior knowledge of the topic etc., and the medium of Internet does not offer uniform representation of all sections of the society in this regard as well. All this leads to a centralization of power in the rich, white majority. In order for a government to be for the people in true sense, it must represent all the people, and with the rise of the Internet as a means of communication between citizens and lawmakers true representation of all sections of the society would be a difficult and rare possibility, at least in the near future.
True, the Net offers its users the opportunity to participate and represent themselves in socio-political forums as the audience participation programs on televisions. However these forums only provide a misconception of participation that makes the citizens to feel that their democratic rights are being exercised. And these representations do not imply that constitution of power in the society undergo any significant change.
Cass Sunstein in her book Rebulic.com cautions about dangers, other than the "digital divide," of Internet as a platform for opinion sharing and public participation in governance in a democracy. According to her a democracy requires shared experiences and exposure to issues topics that are not chosen in advance and also to the different points-of-view. Internet poses the risk of people becoming extremists in public issues, as like-minded communicating with one another more often fail to see the other side of the issue in the right perspective. Though, this problem is fundamental with all specialized and fragmented medium of communication including radio, magazines etc., Internet poses a greater risk due to extensive filtering of information at all levels.
The lack of reality checks is yet another trouble with information and opinion gathering on the Internet. With the aid of a computer screen, and the Internet, newspapers and magazines are designed based on personal preferences, offering readers with exactly what they need or prefer to know, often disregarding the completeness of the news. This leads to biased opinions, complicating the democratic process, with misinformed views and representations. Sunstein suggest privatized Internet sites where all views on many different topics are addressed so as quality in communication is ensured, which would aid healthy democratic governance. (Sunstein, 2002)
The Internet being an open and free media Net-based mischief-- security breaches, bad netiquette etc. are other factors that would hinder fair democratic governance. The remoteness of the users, in the sense that users can keep their identity and origin unknown, adds to the disadvantage. In a democratic set up it is essential that the people and legislation come in 'real' physical contact and the virtual nature of Internet can jeopardise the essential and basic conditions necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
In conclusion it could be stated that the Internet is definitely a highly potential medium for the representation of the people. However it comes with a set of unique and definite set of disadvantages, and if addressed and balanced properly, the Internet would prove an excellent medium, aiding the democracy.
II - Do The Mass Media Facilitate Or Hinder Democratic Decision-Making In The U.S.
The role of fair, unbiased media in democratic decision making is established beyond doubt. Democracy being of the people, by the people and for the people, unbiased and true information and an open exchange of views is essential for correct and appropriate decision making. This aspect of democracy is clearly expressed by Abraham Lincoln when he said: "Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe." Mass media basically need to serve this purpose of making the facts known to the people. The issue whether mass media is effective in its role in a democracy is too important to be ignored and needs to be examined objectively.
The term mass media essentially include the television and entertainment industries, the radio, the printed material published regularly including newspapers, magazines etc., advertising and public relations and today include the Internet, though it does reach the mass in the real sense. However, for the purposes of this paper mass media effectively refer to the 'news media' in print, audio and visual communication mediums. The stress is on content, independent of the technology or delivery system, as medium of news extends to Internet and other high-technology platforms, particularly in the United States. "A Free and Responsible Press," -- the1940s study by Hutchins Commission, identified five possible functions of the news media as norms for the evaluation of press in fulfilling its responsibility in a democracy. The press should perform essentially the following-
Provide "a comprehensive and intelligent description of the day's events in a truthful manner which would provide a meaning to them"-- a responsibility for objective reporting
Be "a forum for the purpose of exchanging criticism and comment" referring to the coverage of multiple and dissimilar views public discussion, in that it should present views contrary…