On the face of it, Indymedia is a clear recent example of global civil society: a global network that links various new sites of news, opinion and debate on political issues within a global frame, and in a way, as Pickard illustrates, that was in principle impossible without the Internet. Indeed, the Indymedia network deepens global civil society in two ways, as Pickard shows: first, by offering a new type of media practice, a new type of ‘newsroom’ much more open to the contributions of non-media professionals; second, by a highly de-centered process of policy making and decision making, which encourages local initiative and adaptability. But this initial success generates major questions for the long-term: how far will Indymedia’s implicit challenge to traditional news production values be taken? Under what conditions is Indymedia’s distinctive media and political practice sustainable and for whom in particular? These questions become even more acute when, as Pickard notes, we recall that only one fourth of the 150 IMCs worldwide are based in the South, just as ‘global civil society’ has from the outset been dominated by the North (Anheier, Glasius and Kaldor 2001: 7).
‘It’s a war of perceptions’, Army Brigadier General John Custer, head of intelligence at Central Command, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes. ‘They [the insurgents] understand the power of the Internet. They don’t have to win in the tactical battlefield. They never will. No platoon has ever been defeated in Afghanistan or Iraq. But it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant’ (Pelley 2007).
How? On the screen. Television, Ignatieff wrote, ‘is the instrument of a new kind of politics’, one in which NGOs seek to circumvent bilateral governmental relations and institute direct political contacts between far-flung people. This notion, exemplified in the paradigms of ‘mobilizing shame’ and ‘global witness,’ today dominates the ‘third sector,’ from relief agencies to human rights organisations and community movements. For us, that new politics has been generalised and radicalised. Global civil society is unthinkable without media, without a virtual public space and access to its means of production and distribution. Indeed, under the banners of opening-democratic-spaces and overcoming-the-digital-divide, creating and defending those media zones has become one of the chief preoccupations of the new political movements of our time. The current concern with information and communications technology for development is just one indicator of this phenomenon. But civil society – and the new people politics – is not what it used to be.
Michel Foucault, speaking in 1981, heralded the emergence of an ‘international citizenry’ (quoted in Keenan 1987: 22), exemplified by Amnesty International and others, which had created a new right, that of private individuals to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies, to uproot the monopoly over reality previously held by governments.
These images were so powerful that aid agencies felt obliged to consider their use carefully and even to develop ethical codes to help protect against the risk of exploiting those whom they sought to help. Critics worried about ‘disaster pornography’. When television went global and live, as a matter of norm rather than exception, the effects multiplied. And so, a decade ago, it seemed impossible to discuss the international events of the day – Rodney King and the LA riots, the Gulf War, famine in Somalia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, genocide in Rwanda – without reflecting on the seemingly overwhelming role that televised images of violence and suffering played in shaping the way crises unfolded. But opinions were split on just what that role was.
The basic analytic units of the Jihad on the web are the forum and the video file. The agents are dispersed across the Islamic world from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine, to Chechnya, Somalia, Algeria and beyond to their comrades in the US, Asia and Europe. They also differ greatly in ideology, theology, and outlook, including Iraqi insurgent armies (mostly Sunni but including some Shiite militias loosely related to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army); those with their own media production units; and the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan (including Al-Qaeda’s most important media production unit, As-Sahab).
What if that’s the distinction that we can’t take for granted anymore, the one between the street and the camera, between ‘our own little world’ of the screen and the big one out there, where what’s really going on, is going on, really? What if the time lag is increasingly being reduced to little or nothing? What about things that happen on screen, that happen only in order to be on screen, that wouldn’t happen without a camera and a screen? Today it is indisputable that such events do occur, that revolutions – or at least insurrections, uprisings, violent acts of resistance – are being televised, blogged, videotaped.
All of this raises questions about how communication technologies affect global democracy – and the nature of global civil society itself. In some ways, the entry of groups such as the NRA and WFSA into the global arena makes for greater democracy. New voices add to the marketplace of ideas. Theorists of global civil society need to open their eyes to this diversity and its implications for democratic practice. For too long, progressive NGOs have identified themselves as ‘global civil society,’ and sympathetic academics have fueled this perception (Wapner 1996). On this narrow empirical base, elaborate theories of transnational politics have then been erected. This creates the impression that global civil society is thick with like–minded groups harmoniously cooperating to fight corporate greed and state power: they may disagree over strategy, but all fundamentally agree about the world’s problems.
In addition to informing and inflaming the pro–gun base, these ‘autonomous communication spaces’ help WFSA and the NRA influence domestic and global gun policy, which they see as intertwined. WFSA has roster consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, and its member organisations have for years fought IANSA and UN efforts to control trade in small arms. This has included engaging directly with the ‘enemy,’ not only through research rebutting the pro–control network’s ideas, but also through public confrontations, most prominently the ‘Great Gun Debate,’ an internationally–televised encounter between LaPierre and IANSA Director Rebecca Peters in 2004 (see Box 10.1; both sides now use DVDs or transcripts of the ‘Great Debate’ to illustrate the dire threat their constituents face). At UN conferences, both pro–control and pro–gun groups seek to shape discourse and shift agendas, using information kits, press releases, and speeches. Representatives from WFSA member organisations, including the NRA, have won seats on country delegations and vigorously lobby other delegates. And both sides have drummed up ‘grassroots’ campaigns aimed at influencing the UN and attracting media attention. For instance, the July 2006 letter–writing onslaught would have been difficult without the NRA’s ‘Stop the UN Gun Ban’ website, which included pre-written letters available for immediate download and mailing to Kofi Annan, John Bolton, and the chairman of the RevCon. For its part, IANSA and the associated Control Arms group mounted their own ‘Million Faces’ campaign, which submitted a photographic petition – said to include over one million participants from more than 160 countries – urging the UN to adopt global arms export standards (Control Arms URL). Ultimately, the RevCon ended in failure, with no action to extend the 2001 Programme of Action’s purely voluntary ‘goals’, themselves the result of US government ‘redlines’ supported by the NRA.
This chapter has sought to demonstrate the complex, contradictory and countervailing media trends shaping the character of democracies in the twenty-first century. It has not been its intention, despite inevitable biases, to reach definitive conclusions or specific policy recommendations or conclusions. The author believes, for example, in the critical role that commercial media can play in invigorating the public sphere, as well as community media and public service broadcasting; that globalisation and concentration of media can sometimes bring important benefits, although generally these are greatly outweighed by the problems; that the role of development agencies in strengthening the media is vital, but such support is fraught with problems and inherent contradictions.
The third risk is that, parallel to the globalisation of civil society, a globalisation of NGO advocacy is occurring. Such a global process retains credibility and legitimacy when it is rooted in the experience of ordinary people in developing countries. Instead, professionalised advocacy organisations have evolved a development agenda and associated campaigns designed to exercise maximum communicative power through the media. This has clear advantages, in terms of raising the global profile of poverty-related issues, but it risks excluding the very people most affected by poverty. This tendency is reinforced by other factors. As development budgets become increasingly decentralised and budget support mechanisms become the norm, policy and financial priorities are set within developing countries (rather than at donor headquarters), which has clear advantages. But it has effects on how international NGOs operate in developing countries and, in turn, how the media agenda is shaped. By deploying their advocacy resources on issues and experiences within developing countries, in order to gain public and political attention, civil society organisations can dominate media coverage at the expense of indigenous public debate and journalism. In poor countries, public spheres are more limited than in industrialised countries (because the number of and audience for media entities is more limited, and budgets for investigative journalism are more scarce, for example) and such societies can be particularly vulnerable to agendas – even public interest ones – shaped by forces outside the country. If the media and public agendas are shaped more by those with the largest advocacy budgets and access to global celebrities or brands, rather than indigenous processes, this risks appropriating, rather than allowing the grassroots exercising of, communicative power.
The first risk is that it is a fragile movement on stilts, with shallow support structures incapable of dealing with setbacks and shifts in political mood. Live 8, the massive global music concert coinciding with the 2005 G8 summit was an event focused not on raising money but on raising public awareness on Africa, featured barely a single voice from Africa, an event about Africa, not of or from Africa. Criticism of this feature of Live 8 has been well rehearsed, but it is perhaps emblematic of an event focused on the exercise of communicative power by those best in a position to exercise that power, rather than a deliberate attempt to share and invest others with such power. The opportunity of Live 8 was to provide the Make Poverty History campaign with a set of supporters and voices that could nurture it through the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead. Most opinion polls suggest that public support in the UK in particular for efforts to tackle poverty is very widespread, but also very fragile. While the main justification of celebrity-led campaigns is their ability to reach a large number of people, some evidence suggests that their impact is short lived and shallow. Research in Britain shows public concern about poverty in poor countries reached a high of 32%, in April 2005, prior to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in June, and two years has declined to 22%, its lowest level since the study began (Darnton 2007).
Grassroots social movements – most notably on HIV/AIDS – have become increasingly powerful, built largely on their capacity to embarrass and hold governments and international agencies to their account through sophisticated public protest and media strategies. This adept use of communications, combined with excellent advocacy campaigns have transformed networks of people living with HIV/AIDS from the subjects of the response to the pandemic, to agents and strategic shapers of it. In this way, the resources, infrastructure and political commitment galvanised around HIV/AIDS and increasingly other global health issues, such as TB, have increased significantly. The HIV/AIDS global campaign echoed other social movements, for example around debt cancellation, fair trade and against globalisation. This move has coincided with and increasingly been overtaken by the rapid increase in the communicative power of celebrities to shape media and public agendas around issues of concern to civil society. Rock stars such as Sir Bob Geldof and Bono have epitomised the shift in sources of action on development issues, with policy agendas not only represented by but increasingly shaped by figures who have instant access to media. For example, Geldof suggested the establishment of a commission for Africa, prior to the G8 Summit in 2005, and as one of its 17 commissioners, he played a key role in shaping its content. This trend is augmented by massive new resources being made available for development work (particularly in health) from new private foundations and individuals, most notably by Bill Gates. The communicative power of such figures outweighs and exerts more influence over policy than virtually any other development actor, be they implementing agencies, grassroots NGOs or research bodies. In addition, a new generation of US foundations, established by new technology entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, are supporting social entrepreneurship and advocacy.
Online public interest journalism is no longer new, with some of the leading online public interest sites demonstrating a capacity to sustain themselves over time, establish a strong brand rooted in public respect and trust and a lasting influence. Tehelka.com is an independent investigative journalism site in India, founded in 2000, which has been targeted repeatedly by the authorities and equally repeatedly made mainstream news through its exposés. Malaysiakini, another online political website, attracts 160,000 visitors each day, and is celebrating its eighth birthday despite several attempts by the authorities to close it down, including an incident in 2003 when its offices were raided and 19 computers were confiscated, allegedly for a breach of the country’s Sedition Act. When Opendemocracy.net was founded in 2001, there were fears this respected web-based fora would prove unsustainable; such anxieties have, at least for now, been dispelled.
Where community media has had the opportunity to gain a serious foothold in the broadcast environment, its political and social effects have sometimes been dramatic. Community radio in Nepal, a majority medium reaching nearly 65% of the population, played a central role in mobilising peaceful mass protest against the monarchical dictatorship in the country, and ultimately securing a transition to democracy (see Box 8.1).
Conclusion: Civil society in the new technological context: the building of autonomy though communication networks
The above cases illustrate the diverse outcomes that the use of communication technologies can mediate. In three of the cases (the Philippines, Korea and Spain) the outcome was substantial in so far as it affected the choice of a government. The fourth process we examined (in the United States) had a limited impact on US politics, and hardly affected the results of the November 2004 presidential election. In the Philippines, wireless communication was employed to oust a sitting president before his term of office ended; in South Korea, the same technologies were used to change the fortunes of a presidential contender who was trailing in the polls. In Spain, text messaging not only was used to galvanise people to vote a government out of power but was also used extensively to supplant, supplement and debunk government propaganda and mainstream media. In the United States text messaging and other wireless technologies were employed (by protesters and police) as efficient tools to coordinate and monitor protest activities during a political convention. Finally, in Japan and China socio-political usage of mobile phones is minimal,despite the rapid diffusion of communications technology in these two countries.
Mobile Communication Without Social Mobilisation: Japan and China
There are other cases where wireless communication was not used for social mobilisation, such as in Japan, or where initial political developments were crushed by the state, such as in China. While our discussion of these two additional cases is less detailed, due to the lack of studies of them, they do demonstrate that, in line with our earlier claim, the particular usage of wireless technologies is shaped by the social context and political structures of a given society.
The Mobilisation around the Republican National Convention in New York
The Republican Party held its 2004 National Convention (RNC) from 30 August to 2 September amid heightened expectations of disturbances caused by anti-Bush activists. The run-up to the New York convention was characterised by reports and rumours of planned and potentially spontaneous protests and of how the police and security agencies were preparing to deal with these incidents (Carpenter 2004; Gibbs 2004; Shachtman 2004; Terdiman 2004). Comparisons were made to the battle of Seattle in 1999, when over 40,000 protesters descended on the city from all over the world to protest against the policies of the World Trade Organization (WTO), leading to scenes of violence and contributing to the breakdown of the WTO talks. What was particularly interesting about these reports was that the central role of wireless communication was taken for granted, not just in the protests but in all aspects of the convention. In the event, several (mostly non-violent) protests were indeed coordinated primarily via wireless communication and the internet, leading to over 17,000 arrests. The convention itself was hardly affected by the protests apart from a few minor disruptions. In fact, President Bush experienced a bounce of two percentage points in the polls (among likely voters) after the convention (The Economist 2004; Jones 2004). These events occurred too recently for any judgements to be made about their immediate or long-term impact. Preliminary examination, however, indicates that this was a case where the use of wireless communication technologies served to enhance efficiency but not to effect change.
It was at this historic moment of low turnout among young people, when Roh Moo-Hyun lost his second race in the parliamentary election, that Nosamo (www.nosamo.org) came into being. On 6 June 2000 Nosamo was formed by around 100 founding members who convened in Taejon (Korea Times 2002). While Roh’s campaign team had been actively utilising the new media, Nosamo was a voluntary organisation self-funded by membership fees and only informally affiliated with Roh (Korea Times 2002; see also Rhee 2003: 95). Within five months, its membership had mushroomed: from around 100 to nearly 5,000 in November 2001 (J.-M. Kim 2001: 50), and then, within a year, to 70,000–80,000 by the end of 2002, amounting to a most formidable political force.
Wireless communication and the ‘people who love Roh’ in South Korea
On 19 December 2002, South Korea elected its new president, Roh Moo-Hyun, a major part of whose victory has been widely attributed to Nosamo, an online supporter group known by this Korean acronym of ‘People who Love Roh’. The success of Roh and of Nosamo is now ‘a textbook example for the power of IT’ (Hachigian and Wu 2003: 68), which systematically utilised a combination of the internet and mobile phone-based communication While the internet-based campaign had lasted for years, providing the core political networks, it was the mobile phones that mobilised large number of young voters on the election day and finally reversed the voting result (Fulford 2003; see also S.-D. Kim n.d.; Rhee 2003).
The Philippines: People Power II
In January 2001 thousands of cell-phone touting Filipinos took part in massive demonstrations now dubbed ‘People Power II’ (following the original People Power movement that overthrew Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in 1986). This four-day event has become legendary as the first occasion in human history when the mobile phone played an instrumental role in removing the head of the government of a nation-state (Bagalawis 2001; see also Salterio 2001: 25).
Introduction: civil society and communication technology
The structuring of civil society evolves with its institutional, cultural, and technological context. The more this context maximises the chances of autonomy vis-à-vis the state, the more civil society empowers itself. Interactive electronic communication, and particularly wireless communication, provides a powerful platform for political autonomy on the basis of independent channels of autonomous communication, from person to person, and from group to group. The communication networks that mobile telephony makes possible can be formed and re-formed instantly, and messages are received from a known source, enhancing their credibility. The network logic of the communication process makes it a high-volume communication channel, but with a considerable degree of personalisation and interactivity. In this sense, the wide availability of individually controlled wireless communication effectively bypasses the mass media as a source of information, and creates a new public space.
Media and the expansion of the public sphere
During the last two decades, for much of humanity, the public sphere has expanded substantially and the capacity to contribute to public debate increased. Three main trends have shaped this expansion of the public sphere: first, the wave of media liberalisation that, as part of broader democratic reform movements, swept much of the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall; second, the transformative changes wrought by new technologies; and third, how advocacy and the effective use of communicative power is increasing the pressure for social justice.
In both the Ukrainian and the Lebanese revolutions, text messaging again played an important role in mobilising especially young people (Koprowski 2004; Quilty 2005). There seems to be clear evidence of transnational contagion and imitation in these ‘colour-coordinated’ revolutions. While the Ukrainian revolution looked the most heroic in braving the bitter cold, the Lebanese one put on the best display:
Pieces of cardboard (coloured red, white or green on one side and black on the other) were distributed to the 10,000 people assembled in the adjacent Martyrs’ Square. On cue, the demonstrators flipped their cardboard to form a 3,800-square-metre flag (when the speaker demanded to know the truth about Hariri’s killing) or a black rectangle of the same size (in reference to the opposition’s enemies). (Quilty 2005)
Chapter 8, by Castells et al., brings out how these forms of mobilisation are different from older forms of national mobilisation. First, and most eye-catchingly, there is the use of new information and communications technology (ICT). Where earlier work by Castells and others has concentrated on the transformative features of the internet, this introduction focuses on mobilisation by mobile phone. Like the internet, it can have the function of breaking into information oligarchies. New ICTs became so important in the Korean, the Spanish, and perhaps also the Philippine cases because the old media was, for whatever reason, on the side of the establishment. But the speed with which mobile phones can spread information greatly surpasses that of the internet, although, as the authors point out, texting is great for mobilisation but much less so for deliberation.
Citizen participation, civic culture and substantive democracy
In complex systems, order is not imposed from the top down by a centre of command and control. Neither does social change occur according to uniform and pre-established strategies. Change is an ongoing process that occurs simultaneously at multiple points. Personal freedom and technological innovation release creative social energy. Pioneering actions, innovative experiences, exemplary projects and unexpected interactions take many shapes, flow along multiple pathways and radiate at great speed. These decentralised initiatives produce an impact on the system as a whole, generating a critical mass of new ideas, messages, proposals, knowledge and experiences. Connectors and communicators amplify and re-transmit these innovations in a continuous dynamic of experimentation, learning, feedback, reorganisation and expansion. Power is moving from the centre to the periphery, from vertical command and control structures to horizontal networks and collaborative platforms. Communication is, increasingly, participative, interactive and collaborative.
The Internet and other new technologies
The Internet has provided an unprecedented space for dissent for civil society and a dilemma for rulers. As Taubmann says: ‘efforts to sanitize the Internet are hampered by the fact that the features of the Internet that cause problems for nondemocratic rulers are the same features that make the technology so attractive’ (1998: 256) and, one might add, necessary in order to participate in the global economy. (See Box 5.3 for an exploration of efforts to control the Internet).
Like their democratic counterparts, illiberal states have understood the need to change and adapt in the face of globalisation. It is possible to distinguish three main forms of control exterted by the state. The first is administrative, the exercise of the rule of law and/or repression. While repressive regimes can and do imprison political dissident and use torture and other inhumane treatments, it can be argued that physical repression is less effective than in the past, partly because of the difficulty of controlling the spread of weapons or knowledge of bomb-making, and partly because of international pressure. To an increasing extent, the implementation of a rule of law or of administrative measures depends on consent. The second is economic. Totalitarian or sultanistic regimes exercised total control over the economy. Today, economic control is exerted through patronage, for example, through oil rents, as in the majority of authoritarian regimes, or through predation, as in Zimbabwe. The growth of global markets, such as China’s, creates autonomous economic spaces that require a political response lest they open the floodgates for freedom, as happened in the former Soviet Union. The third form of control is through communication or, as Joseph Nye puts it, soft power (2004). In the global era, this may be the most critical form of control. New forms of communication such as the Internet and the electronic media are inherently global, and these connections can help and hinder illiberal regimes in promoting their ideology.
Such versatility and experimentation become necessary qualities for global civil society as it copes with media transformations. To innovate effectively and circumvent existing barriers to entry in the market for loyalties, global civil society must creatively use new communications technologies, as well as heritage technologies. Audio-cassettes provided a means of entry for unpopular ideas to an otherwise closed market in Iran. An analysis by Ian Liston-Smith for BBC Monitoring (Liston-Smith 2006) addresses modes by which, in Africa, the introduction of mobile phone networks suggested new possibilities for receiving news unavailable via local media and helping coordinate activism by human rights and social justice organisations. SW Radio Africa employed mobile phone text messaging to overcome the blockage of news by the government of Zimbabwe; a station operated by a London-based group of Zimbabwean exiles was routinely jammed by the Zimbabwean authorities but they circumvented the barrier by text service. NGOs also used mobile phones more frequently for delivery of information.
A contemporary example of this phenomenon is the slow rate of diffusion in the US of Al Jazeera English (the counterpart to the original Al Jazeera channel), which was launched in November 2006. Although the broadcaster is, strictly speaking, not a civil society organisation, it is a platform for those, including civil society players, who seek to influence political attitudes and shape public opinion. In the US Al Jazeera English has encountered enormous difficulty in being carried by cable providers, and is currently only available through satellite TV and the Internet. In Canada, the 2004 Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruling that approved the carriage of the Arabic-language Al Jazeera placed onerous and exceptional conditions on the privilege of cable television systems to carry it (CRTC 2004). A market for loyalties analysis would ask what formal and informal efforts restricted pathways open to such a channel.
Some version of this market, I contended, has existed everywhere and at all times. What differs in today’s market is the range of participants, the scope of boundaries of relevant markets and the limitations on the regulatory bodies capable of establishing and enforcing rules for participation and exclusion. The question for this chapter is how to define a global version of such a market and the role of civil society players within it. Put differently, one may ask how a new array of global voices and forces seeks to arrange or manipulate law and technology so that their messages can reach target audiences and have a competitive edge.
Without some mass system of communication, only relatively small attention aggregates could ever form around particular objects, events, or issues. The broader the reach of media systems, the larger the potential scale of attention and interest aggregation. The more interactive and conversational the system, the greater its potential to facilitate interest aggregates that begin to talk, to form and to exchange opinions, that is, to form publics in the sense outlined above. The global reach and conversational capacities of contemporary media systems should, at least in theory, foster international or global public awareness, opinion formation and political participation – just as Cooley proposed a hundred years ago.
The new social movements of the 1970s already showed some affinity with this ideal, causing Habermas to revise his view of the public sphere from something once briefly glimpsed in the Enlightenment that could never return, to a ‘less pessimistic assessment’ of an ideal for which one could strive in practice (1992: 457). Since then, the newer global movements that have emerged have even more explicitly sought their salvation in an alternative politics of communication. The ‘hacker ethic’ of the first generation of computer geeks launched a wholesale attack on the foundations of modernity: the work ethic, the notion of private property, and command-and-control structures of governance (Himanen 2001). But the most enduring characteristic of that ethic has been the emphasis on ‘open access’ and free flows of information and communication, which has to date determined the architecture of the Internet. Beside this paramount achievement, the broad movement has spawned numerous other civil society initiatives built on the same norms, including the early email networks, the free software and open source movements, the Indymedia centres, Wikipedia. These are all expressions of, and contributions to, ‘an emerging techno-political ethos’ (Juris 2005) in global civil society. This ethos has now spread far beyond the original western left-wing hacktivists: Box I.2 describes how the resistance of a single couple of Chinese home-owners to the property developers became a cause celebre by moving from the blogosphere into the Chinese and Western mainstream media.
On the other hand Dewey, in spite of his nostalgic communitarianism, in our time of digital, interactive, Internet-based technology seems to speak as the animating spirit of civil-society led global communication. His local community was not cut off from the wider world by national boundaries. It was to be the vital node for transmitting democratic values. Anticipating Habermas, he declared ’The Great Community in the sense of free and full intercommunication’ will only work through trans-local associations that feed into the intimate unions. ‘Democracy must begin at home’ (1927: 367-8). ‘Fraternity, liberty and equality isolated from communal life are hopeless abstractions’ (1927: 329).