A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Tyranny of the Click

A new study has found that overwhelming majority of Canadians believe in the critical role of journalism to democracy, and support more policies to defend the industry.
Financial pressures have strained Canada’s news industry, with layoffs in newsrooms across the country.
News Media Canada has proposed overhauling the Canadian Periodical Fund, which currently provides funding only to print magazines and non-daily newspapers to offset their mailing costs. That policy measure was supported by survey respondents, with 79 per cent in favour of amending the fund to include daily newspapers. “
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted the federal government’s $675-million investment in CBC and its French language network, Radio-Canada, as evidence of Ottawa’s action. “Reliable local and community news is essential for the functioning of our democracy,” he said during question period, which has meant journalists now cover “areas where they had never served before.”
Its hard to argue with the concept above but do we in fact have much reliable local community news left? Certainly the newspaper industry has become increasingly centralized and under the ownership of one or two monolithic media chains and television 'news.' is also largly concentrated in the hands of a limited number of large corporations. Thankfully there are still a multitude of small independent radio stations across the country which for many of us, particularly those of us in rural areas, is the only source of truly local news.

Many of us rely upon the evening TV news for much of our information however “One of the challenges that mainstream television faces is sameness. We’ve all scrolled through the listings and been presented with an endless array of programming that fits into advertiser-supported shows.
Advertisers want to speak to as large and as focused audience as possible. They have a product to sell and they want to place their product next to programming that appeals to a broad audience.
Therein lies the problem when it comes to the production of programming that challenges viewers to question their perspectives on big issues. Issues that lie at the heart of our society, globalization, human rights, equality, freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom to choose who they fall in love with, and free market economies.”

This brings me to the article from which the heading of this piece came from, a lengthy article titled THE ROLE OF QUALITY JOURNALISM IN OUR DEMOCRACY by Kevin O’Sullivan, Editor, The Irish Times which along with other insightful commentary addresses the impact that the internet has had upon “journalism”. A short extract follows......

“The perfect storm   a sharp economic downturn in many countries combined with a dramatic shift in consumption patterns and diminishing traditional brand loyalty   means much of the rich and diverse blend of media in Europe is under grave threat.  In that turbulent mix are some great newspapers and public service broadcasters.  The phrase ‘once great’ will be applied to many who will fall by the wayside. A heavy cost is likely to be paid to the detriment of society and democracy.
The open internet has ‘democratised’ content and enriched the conversation with the reader.  There has been tremendous change in terms of participation. But social media have also disrupted robust news gathering.  Many in the new camp of ‘breaking news’ don’t apply the same value system as the big established players.  This has helped fuel a mistaken view that ‘old fashioned’ news gathering and verification is of less merit.  It has been described elsewhere as “abandoning journalism for the tyranny of the click”.
One of the suggestions made in response to the questionnaire by News Media Canada was to increase copyright protections for content from news aggregators. The question then becomes how far should we go to 'protect' original 'news' content? Many news outlets are already 'protecting' their content with paywalls and blocking users that subscribe to programs like Adblock to reduce their frustration with addon crap, this blogger being one of those users. Will we all be PAYING for our daily news, be it print, digital or (I hope not) audio, what effect will this have upon our ability to know what is happening in our community, in our province and country and more importantly our democratic institutions.

Finally a few words from Kalene Harding at the The Odyssey on line “Since the very beginning, the purpose of journalism has been to report the truth to the public without being biased. Although this may sound simple, journalism involves a lot more than one would think. There is an ethics code that comes with being a journalist. Journalists have a duty to the public, to be honest and loyal. Unfortunately, this has not always been as easy as it sounds. In fact, in the past, it was very common for the government to attempt to censor publications. In some countries, they would try to control what people could and could not read. Of course, the governments of these countries were nowhere near the democratic government that is present in our own.”

With the advent of internet 'news' it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell truth from fiction, legitimate journalists from spin doctors and genuine news from “fake news”............... Now where have I heard that phrase before?

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Democracy Scale.

The Economist Intelligence Unit released on Wednesday its 2017 Democracy Index, which ranks 167 countries on a 0 to 10 scale. Only countries with scores above 8 are categorised as "full" democracies.

The US was
downgraded from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" in the same study last year, which cited the "low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties."

The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair ("electoral process and pluralism"), governments have checks and balances ("functioning of government"), and whether citizens are included in politics ("political participation"), support their government ("political culture"), and enjoy freedom of expression ("civil liberties").

Norway comes in at first with a score of 9.87 out of a possible 10. Iceland comes in 2nd followed by Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark. Canada comes in 6th  (tied with Ireland) with a score of 9.15. America is denied a podium finish, coming in, tied with Italy, at 21st with 7.98.

If you ask me, someone was very generous with the U.S. score.  Meanwhile, an article today in The Atlantic reminds us that America was never intended to be a democracy. It's a lengthy article I've attempted to excerpt below.

Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all.

It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democracy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades.

We don’t need to abolish all technocratic institutions or merely save the ones that exist.
We need to build a new set of political institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.

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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Democracy in Crisis

Freedom House, the U.S.-based institute which surveys the progress of democracy, civil society, freedom of speech and the media round the world has produced a report headlined “Democracy in Crisis” – a grim reportage showing that democracy’s “basic tenets – including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law – came under attack around the world.” A few extract from that very extensive report that studies the condition of democracy, and the lack thereof, across the world follows.........

Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened. For the 12th consecutive year, according to Freedom in the World, countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains. States that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories—Turkey and Hungary, for example—are sliding into authoritarian rule. The military in Myanmar, which began a limited democratic opening in 2010, executed a shocking campaign of ethnic cleansing in 2017 and rebuffed international criticism of its actions. Meanwhile, the world’s most powerful democracies are mired in seemingly intractable problems at home, including social and economic disparities, partisan fragmentation, terrorist attacks, and an influx of refugees that has strained alliances and increased fears of the “other.”

The retreat of democracies is troubling enough. Yet at the same time, the world’s leading autocracies, China and Russia, have seized the opportunity not only to step up internal repression but also to export their malign influence to other countries, which are increasingly copying their behavior and adopting their disdain for democracy. A confident Chinese president Xi Jinping recently proclaimed that China is “blazing a new trail” for developing countries to follow. It is a path that includes politicized courts, intolerance for dissent, and predetermined elections.

A long list of troubling developments around the world contributed to the global decline in 2017, but perhaps most striking was the accelerating withdrawal of the United States from its historical commitment to promoting and supporting democracy. The potent challenge from authoritarian regimes made the United States’ abdication of its traditional role all the more important.

The past year brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory, damaging its international credibility as a champion of good governance and human rights.

The autocratic regimes in Russia and China clearly recognize that to maintain power at home, they must squelch open debate, pursue dissidents, and compromise rules-based institutions beyond their borders. The citizens and leaders of democracies must now recognize that the reverse is also true: To maintain their own freedoms, they must defend the rights of their counterparts in all countries.

Its hard to argue with the very troubling synopsis that heads this article (reproduced below), democracy is indeed in crisis and we here in Canada are not immune from this decline and must be always alert to any attempts to subvert our democratic processes.

  • Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.
  • Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.
  • Over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.

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