INTERNET AND DEMOCRACY

New information technologies are unique tools to enhance citizen dialogue. Their development is inevitable, but traditional media outlets and politicians clearly do not fully understand the challenges of this radical shift.

As Joël de Rosnay said, after the mass media, these are the new platforms that constitute the media for the masses; they emerge quasi-spontaneously, stimulated by the latest information and communication technologies. These transformations, more or less implicitly, drive the development of new esthetics and new economic models.

These new platforms are currently changing the relationship between politics and the citizen. Individuals have less and less affiliations, like free electrons… they have fewer ties to the Church, to the family, to the State, and therefore to politics. Little by little, people are gathering in communities of like-minded individuals. We are only beginning to measure how these significant changes impact civil society, political life and culture. New “professional” tools enable people to move from being simple consumers to being creators, some even referring to themselves as pro-ams (professional amateurs). New technological devices allow them to create perfectly viable—and distributable—digital content with image, sound, graphic, video and text quality that rivals the quality standards that, until now, only the mass media could attain.

These new technologies and new platforms therefore have a real impact on production and distribution, which, up to now, were exclusively reserved to the mass media.

In our information society, the economy of scale is faltering, shaken by new technologies in its autocratic, monopolistic model. It costs almost nothing today to reproduce digital content and distribute it, not only instantly, but globally. We cannot escape the fact that funding, creation, production and distribution models for documentaries need a short-term review and restructuring.

We will therefore witness (and are in fact already witnessing) a confrontation between those who have the means of producing and distributing information and those who, until quite recently, we believed belonged to the category of viewers and readers, those we considered passive users.
But times have changed: the relationship between the creator, the work and the viewer is undergoing a transformation.

There is a new category of digital network users who are capable of producing, diffusing and even selling non-proprietary digital content.

In the context of this ever-changing information society, it would be useful to know what drives the Web generation, for whom YouTube and Daily Motion are a daily source of exchange, information and distribution. John-Paul Lepers, a French journalist who left conventional television to launch the Télé-Libre Web site, offers a partial answer. He said that the Internet is essentially a democratic media, whereas, in a way, television is a totalitarian media. Another example is those seasoned Washington Post journalists who left their renowned paper to create the “The Politico” Web site. They said they wanted to practice a different kind of political journalism. In the same spirit, Karl Zéro, another French journalist who defected from television to the Internet, said that the Web represents a new kind of freedom, far from the censors, ringing telephones and pressure from management. The Web certainly eliminates the constraints of space and time that determine the organization of programming and formatting of production. The Internet is clearly a new possible form for television. But will (and more importantly, can) this new form replace the television that we are familiar with today?

Currently, the economic model for the new television is embryonic; it has not really been defined, we cannot move any further ahead until it has. For the time being, its attraction lies in that seductive euphoria of freedom (editorial freedom, freedom in terms of time and format) and on a promise of democratic ethics that give voice to those without one and thwarts censors.

So, is the Internet a democratic media? Perhaps, it is promising and the utopia is working for now. However, we should remain cautious. Does it not risk imitating television in the medium term? Or is it still too often required to be the support, a promotion tool for conventional television when it provides Internet sites? In order to distinguish itself, it will have to invent new formats, a different writing style, and it will especially have to take into account an alternative economy. There is still a ways to go.

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