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Lord Puttnam and an interesting set of thoughts

5.29.2005

The recent report in the U.K. by Lord Puttnam into media and its role in democratic development threw up some surprising and engaging findings. (variety of links here: Guardian, Observer & many more) The premise of the debate is greater public engagement through the media is required to boost the standing of parliament. Puttnam’s arguments make a great deal of noise about the power the media has to restore parliamentary powers of accountability over the executive. This is an outcome I think few of us would not desire. The idea of a better and more powerful Dáil is only second in dreams and hopes to a more learned set of members. All in good time I suppose.
The eye catching proposal, for me anyway, is to ‘incorporate’ the media formally into democratic structure and give them a formal place in the running/government of the state. not in a prescriptive sense but in a capacity as formal P.R. and also as watchdog. What difference is this from our current set up? Well over the lifetime of this governement there has been a marked rise in news management and spin. One of the ways to begin to clarify our politics is giving unfettered access to the debates and discussions occurring in the house. If a TD sees he can make political capital from performing well we are more likely to better the standard of policy creation and discussion. Also increased coverage is likely to broaden calls for reform of Dáil accountability practices. We have already as a society acknowledged the link between media and politics in a sense however our observers are on the outside looking in, they are an attachment but not a prerequisite of our modern democracy.
Puttnam’s recommendations make many other calls most of them U.K. specific, thus I think we should also begin to examine more progressively our democracy, establish bodies that will promote progression and development of our democracy making it fairer and more inclusive, above all promoting involvement and ownership by the citizens. Undoubtedly the media will have a huge role along with pr and communication. The need is for checks and balances to be considered.
If media is to become a tool of democracy then the far reaching and wholistic view must be taken regarding powers of the branch of power and responsibilities. Is media a business of a political establishment or both? Tough questions indeed and juicy political theory. Our task is to turn this theory into practice in true progressive style and redefine our media model for a new era of democratic engagement.
Any idea of free press involves the dichotomy of restricted ownership yet any idea of media as an integral part of democracy at large ca smack of state propaganda etc. However models such as the Beeb proved in the 60s that a middle ground exists. True competition has eroded the degree to which the Beeb is seen as moulding a nation but it once did. According to research many citizens, even the young ones, are interested in politics albeit the majority in single issues. However reaching out to these people and letting them see how government and society can inform and be informed by them is a major step forward toward 21st century integrated democracy.
Proper communication and media distribution are essential. The reshaping of our parliament is long overdue and must begin with wholesale changes in our contact and knowledge thereof. CSPE this is not, we are talking deep rooted and radical change to meet the needs of a new society. Ireland is a changing place and people will respond if they are included and engaged with what goes on.
These are only a variety of perhaps incoherent babblings but the report can be fascinating in parts. There are a great many options open to us for re reengagement. We must take them and pressure our system to reform.
Red Rover

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