The Impact of Democratic Deficits on Electronic Media in Rural Development
First Monday

The Impact of Democratic Deficits on Electronic Media in Rural Development by Robin Van Koert

Abstract
In the second half of the 1990s the enthusiasm for the potential of ICTs, or electronic media, to facilitate, or even to create, economic development in developing countries was buoyant. In a sense, ICTs were expected to create information flows which would no longer be limited by geographical boundaries. As a result, experts on rural development in developing countries claimed that, finally, people in rural areas in developing countries would have access to huge amounts of information. Those same experts also typically envisaged the advent of free flows of information, which would elude conventional restrictions on information flows imposed by nation-states concerned with the impact of such free information flows on government power. Governments, so it seemed, would no longer be capable of denying their citizens access to the large pools of information available through the Internet.

Amidst the enthusiasm for the "liberating potential" of ICTs, I decided to conduct in-depth research on the validity of the widely accepted premise that the influence of the political situation in a nation-state on the free flow of information was rapidly diminishing. The basic assumption of my research was that the value of the "democratic deficit" of a nation-state would be more decisive for the actual role of ICT in rural development than the intrinsic interactivity of ICTs. In order to test the basic assumption, I conducted field research in Indonesia (1998), Peru (1999) and Vietnam (1998). The qualitative research data suggested that the level of interactive use of ICT in rural development efforts appears, to a large extent, to be determined by the state of democracy in a nation-state. Unsurprisingly, the research data indicated that the value of the "democratic deficit" increased from Peru, through Indonesia, to Vietnam. At the same time, the level of interactivity of ICTs in rural development decreased in the opposite direction.

In this paper I will present the main results and conclusions of the research, which indicate that, despite the unique and acknowledged de-centralizing features of the Internet, governments continue to be capable of controlling information flows, either through political or economic restrictions on the use of ICT, or electronic media. Although this may not be a revolutionary finding, it is a conclusion which serves as a reminder that the way technology eventually contributes to rural development by and large is still determined by the nature of the socio-political and economic context of a given nation-state.

Contents

Two central concepts: "democratic deficit" and "interactivity"
Ideal-types of electronically mediated information flows
Case studies: Vietnam, Indonesia and Peru
Conclusions

 

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Two central concepts: "democratic deficit" and "interactivity"

In order to test the basic assumption, I used two central concepts: the "democratic deficit" and "interactivity". The two central concepts were subsequently used to define nine ideal-types of electronically mediated information flows. I elaborate on the ideal-types later in this paper, but first I provide below my interpretations of the two central concepts.

Democratic deficit

Although the term democratic deficit is regularly used in discourse on democracy, its frequent use does not mean the existence of an unambiguous and generally accepted definition for the term. As it is, a universally accepted and applicable definition of "democracy" does not even exist. Many conventional definitions of democracy tend to be ambiguous and often do not move beyond defining a set of formal democratic elements such as representative government through regular elections, multi-party systems and a democratically conceived constitution. However, it may be that the extent to which democratic practices and processes are established and safeguarded as a constitutive element of the socio-political and economic context of a nation-state is a more important indicator of the democratic deficit of a nation-state.

In my opinion, popular political participation is a generic democratic process, where the scope and depth of the democratic processes are a crucial indicator of the democratic deficit. In his book Deepening Democracy?, Kenneth Roberts extends the scope of participation beyond the political domain, the more usual approach, to issues and institutions in the social and economic domains. By distinguishing between hierarchical control over popular participation and mass control over such participatory processes, he extends the depth of popular participation to almost complete citizen sovereignty, instead of State sovereignty, over the political, social and economic domains of society. My interpretation of Roberts' theory is that scope and depth of popular participation are qualitative indicators of democratic deficits, whereby lower democratic deficits correspond with increasing scopes and depths of popular participation.

 

Table 1: Ideal-types of democracies
(adapted from Roberts, 1998, p. 31)

   
Extending democracy
   
political domain
socio-economic domain
Deepening democracy
hierarchical control
liberal democracy
social democracy
mass control
radical democracy
democratic socialism

 

In his essay Del Movimientismo a la Media-Política (From Political Movements to a Politicized Media), Martín Tanaka introduces the concept of a politicized media (media-política) which translates political participation into access by individual people and civil society to a public discussion forum created by electronic mass media. He argues that popular political participation has moved from activism, directly aimed at obtaining a share in government controlled resources, to a far more media-savvy approach, aimed at persuading the electorate and, as a result, indirectly forcing governments to offer a share in the government controlled resources. Tanaka labels this result the public compromise (compromiso público). I interpret the extent to which individual people and more organized stakeholders in rural development are capable of determining the nature and content of the public compromise as a qualitative indicator of the actual freedom of speech and the level of independence of information flows. Lower democratic deficits correspond with an increasing actual freedom of speech and free and independent flows of information.

 

Table 2: Political participation ideal-types
(Tanaka, In: Crabtree and Thomas (editors), 1999, p. 417)

 
high distributive capability of the state
low distributive capability of the state
strong support groups in civil society
strong collective identities: participatory democracy
weak collective identities: elitist democracy
strong collective identities: movimientismo
weak collective identities: negotiation
weak support groups in civil society
strong collective identities: corporativism
weak collective identities: (neo)clientelism
strong collective identities: social movements
weak collective identities: pragmatism

 

Based on the more generally accepted, if ambiguous, definitions of democracy and the concepts developed by Roberts and Tanaka, I have identified the following democratic elements, processes and practices:

  • formal democratic institutions, e.g., representative government, a democratically conceived constitution, multi-party elections, universal adult suffrage and popular political participation;
  • democratic practices, e.g., regular changes of government through elections and acknowledgement of differences of opinion in debate;
  • democratic processes, e.g., popular participation in public discussions, policy and decision-making (political, social and economic) on rural development (Roberts' depth and scope variables);
  • democratic freedoms, e.g. freedom of speech, free flows of information, political freedom in general, social opportunities and economic facilities;
  • the degree to which the political system and administrative structure of a nation-state are (de)centralized; and
  • the orientation and degree of centralization of a nation-state's development policies and activities.

In the case studies I use this set of democratic elements, processes and practices to assess the democratic deficits of the respective case study countries.

Interactivity

The second central concept, used to define the ideal-types of electronically mediated flows of information, is interactivity. The interactivity of an electronic medium ("E-medium") and the value of the democratic deficit of a nation-state, to a large extent, determine the characteristics and qualities of electronically mediated information flows. Moreover, interactivity is probably the single most relevant and characteristic feature of networked electronic media, such as computer, radio communication and telephone networks, which distinguish those media from electronic mass media, such as radio and television broadcasting. In his book Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers gives the following definition of interactivity for communication processes:

"Interactivity is the degree to which participants in a communication process can exchange roles [from sender to receiver and vice versa] in, and have control over, their mutual discourse. 'Mutual discourse' is the degree to which a given communication act is based on a prior series of communication acts. Thus, each message in a sequence of exchanges affects the next message in a kind of cumulative process" (Rogers, 1995, p. 314).

Important terms in the definition are exchange [of] roles and control. According to Rogers, an exchange of roles refers to "the empathic ability of individual A to take the position of individual B (and to perform B's communication acts), and vice versa" (Rogers, 1995, p. 314). This conception of interactivity excludes electronic mass media, such as television and radio broadcasting, from being conceived of as interactive electronic media. The reason for the exclusion is that the one-way information provision flows of electronic mass media cannot acquire, nor emulate, the interactivity of two-way information exchange flows of networked electronic media.

The level of actual interactivity of E-media determines the nature of their electronically mediated information flows and, by implication, the impact which E-media can have on rural development supporting multi-directional (e.g., two way) information dissemination. In his book Knowledge in a Social World, Alvin Goldman states that E-media "differ in their sup-port of interactiveness or responsiveness", by which he refers to the levels of intrinsic inter-activity of E-media. The relatively high level of interactivity of networked electronic media indicates a likely suitability of those E-media for multi-directional information exchanges. However, the level of interactivity of an E-medium does not always lead to that interactivity being used to its full potential. Organizational measures, for example centralization of control and restrictions on access, may have been taken to limit the interactivity of an E-medium. On the other hand, organizational measures can also partly compensate for a lack of inter-activity in E-media, such as television and radio broadcasting, by establishing local stations with their own local audiences in different small geographical areas.

The intrinsic interactivity of E-media can be determined by the extent to which E-media support multi-directional communication processes. From that perspective, interactivity is defined by whether an E-medium (i) makes multi-directional communication possible, (ii) allows participants control over the communication act and (iii) supports the exchanges of roles between participants in communication processes. In addition, two more characteristics of multi-directional communication are (iv) the possibility of feedback and the speed with which that feedback can be communicated and (v) its requirement for synchronicity in time. A telephone conversation is an example of synchronous communication and requires sender and receiver to communicate at the same moment in time, as opposed to asynchronous communication in the case of e-mail or the use of an answering machine for telephone conversation.

The level of intrinsic interactivity of an E-medium is difficult to quantify, but on the basis of the five above mentioned qualitative aspects of multi-directional communication processes, I have attributed low, medium and high levels of intrinsic interactivity to E-media.

 

Table 3: Intrinsic interactivity of E-media

E-medium
intrinsic interactivity
relative degree of initrinsic interactivity
(i) multi-directional
(ii) control
(iii) role changing
(iv) feedback
(v) communication
telephone
yes
yes
yes
immediate
synchronous or asynchronous
high
radio-communication
yes
yes
yes
immediate
synchronous
high
Internet
yes
yes
yes
immediate or delayed
synchronous
high
national television
no
no
no
limited, delayed
synchronous
low
local television
limited
limited
limited
limited
synchronous
low/medium
national radio
no
no
no
limited, delayed
synchronous
low
local radio
limited
limited
limited
limited
synchronous
low/medium

 

As illustrated in Table 3, the level of intrinsic interactivity of E-media decreases from interactive computer networks, via local radio and television stations to state-owned and centralized providers of controlled information.

 

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Ideal-types of electronically mediated information flows

By placing the two central concepts, democratic deficit and interactivity, and their three relative values (low, medium and high), on the two axes of a matrix, I have created nine ideal-types of electronically mediated information flows. In order to typify the nine ideal-types, I have used an analytical concept called "information traffic patterns" and the sociological concept of "actor roles". Before I introduce the ideal-types, I will discuss the four "information traffic patterns", as well as the concept of "actor roles".

Information traffic patterns

The analytical concept of information traffic patterns ("ITPs") was developed by two Dutch telecommunication experts and revolves around the concept of control over information. By distinguishing between individual and central control over information storage and over time, choice of subject and speed of information reception, four different ITPs are created. Central control over both information flow aspects is labeled allocution (e.g., one-way information provision). At the other end of the spectrum, individual control over both information flow aspects typifies the conversation pattern (e.g., two-way information exchanges). Individual control over information storage, the registration pattern, usually refers to a center collecting data from individuals on a periphery. Individual control over the communication process, the consultation pattern, is used to define processes in which individuals extract information from a central source. The link with the central concept of the democratic deficit is based on the assumption that nation-states with high democratic deficits favor highly centralized, and often state-owned and controlled, one-way information flows: allocution patterns. On the other hand, nation-states with very low democratic deficits are expected to favor de-centralized two-way information exchanges.

Political, economic and social actor roles

I make a distinction between political, social and economic actor roles of E-media and other organizations using E-media for the dissemination of information. In my perception, an E-medium performs a political actor role if its activities and information dissemination are directly and intentionally influenced or motivated by the political objectives of power of the ruling political force in a nation-state and aimed at strengthening the position of that political force. I consider an E-medium to perform an economic actor role if its activities and information dissemination are directly influenced or motivated by structural and economic factors affecting electronic mass media and essentially aimed at economic profitability. Finally, a social actor role refers to situations when activities and information dissemination by an E-medium are influenced or motivated by its perception of its position in society as a facilitator to increase the individual political, social and economic freedoms of people.

I am particularly interested in social actor roles and Peru's electronic media landscape provided an opportunity for a tentative definition of a social actor role for electronic mass media. In addition to playing a minor economic actor role, providing relevant local news and providing access to electronic mass media to rural populations, many independent local radio stations perform three aspects of a social actor role:

  • creating and increasing awareness of government and NGO development activities and of successful activities by local people (e.g., testimonies);
  • educating people on local and national issues (e.g., elections, new constitution) through debates; and,
  • mobilizing opinion concerning local issues or specific social problems and sometimes organizing activities (e.g., clean-up action as an environmental issue) to set an example.

I have abstracted this tentative definition from information provided by various independent radio stations in rural areas in Peru on their activities and perceived role in Peruvian society.

Ideal-types of E-media information flows

The rationale underlying the linkage of the two central concepts is that the nine ideal-types illustrate the relation between the value of the democratic deficit of a nation-state and the prevailing use of E-media. The link with the ITP-concept is that a prevalence of allocution patterns is characteristic of a centralized power structure. Conversation patterns indicate a certain extent of openness of society, or a de-centralized information and communication power structure ("I&C power structure").

 

Table 4: Ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination

 
interactivity
high
medium
low
value of the democratic deficit
low
(interactive communication)
1.1
(independent information dissemination, local)
1.2
(independent information provision, national)
1.3
medium
(open, interactive databases)
2.1
(commercial information provision, local)
2.2
(commercial information provision, national)
2.3
high
(information flow control)
3.1
(local, State-controlled information provision)
3.2
(national, State-controlled information provision)
3.3

 

The ideal-types of Table 4 can be placed on a continuum, ranging from interactive communication to national, State-controlled information provision. The nine ideal-types are defined by (i) controls over information flows and storage and (ii) characteristics and qualities of the prevailing actor role of the E-media enterprise with respect to rural development, distinguishing between political, social and economic actor roles.

Table 5 contains the nine ideal-type definitions linked to the three ITPs: allocution to the ideal-types 3.2, 2.3 and 3.3; allocution/consultation to the ideal-types 3.1, 2.2 and 1.3; consultation/ conversation to the ideal types 2.1 and 1.2; and, finally, conversation to ideal-type 1.1.

 

Table 5: Descriptions of ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination

#
Ideal-type
Description of ideal-type
1.1
Interactive communication
Individual control over time, content and participants of information exchanges, as well as over storage of information, requires a low democratic deficit, as well as significant individual freedoms; networked electronic media have the necessary intrinsic interactivity; the related ITP is the conversation pattern
1.2
Independent information dissemination, local
the extent to which control over time, content and participants in dissemination of information, as well as over information storage, is shared, depends on the nature and degree of audience participation, which in its turn is influenced by the level of individual freedoms; the E-media organization predominantly performs a social actor role at a local level, the nature and extent of which is defined by the democratic deficit; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is soft allocution, or emulated consultation/ conversation patterns
1.3
Independent information dissemination, national
the extent to which control over time, content and participants in dissemination of information, as well as over information storage, is shared, depends on the nature and degree of audience participation, as well as on the physical distance between audience and sender, the former is in its turn influenced by the level of individual freedoms; the E-media organization predominantly performs a social actor role at a national level, the nature and extent of which is defined by the democratic deficit; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is soft allocution
2.1
Independent interactive databases
the extent to which individuals have control over time and content of information dissemination depends on the level of control by the owner of the information; the degree of autonomy of the databases depends on the democratic deficit and the level of interactivity depends on the individual freedoms; networked electronic media have the necessary intrinsic interactivity; the related ITP is the consultation pattern
2.2
Commercial information provision, local
the extent to which control over time, content and participants in dissemination of information, as well as over information storage, is shared, depends on the nature and degree of audience participation, which in its turn is influenced by the level of individual freedoms; considerations of an economic nature largely determine the content of information flows; the E-media organization predominantly performs an economic actor role at a local level, the nature and extent of which is defined by the democratic deficit; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is allocution
2.3
Commercial information provision, national
the extent to which control over time, content and participants in dissemination of information, as well as over information storage, is shared, depends on the nature and degree of audience participation, as well as on the physical distance between audience and sender, the former is in its turn influenced by the level of individual freedoms; economic considerations largely determine the content of information flows; the E-media organization predominantly performs an economic actor role at a national level, the nature and extent of which is defined by the democratic deficit; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is allocution
3.1
Information flow control
the extent of individual control over content of information dissemination is defined by political constraints and is, as well as control over information storage, subject to political limitations; the degree of State-control partly defines the democratic deficit; the impact of individual freedoms is subordinated to communitarian rights and national interests; networked electronic media have the necessary intrinsic interactivity; the related ITP is the consultation pattern, but with strong allocutive tendencies
3.2
State-controlled information provision, local
the State, or its local representation, exercises control over time and content of information provision and information storage, either through direct ownership or through ownership by politically affiliated organizations; the degree and nature of State-control partly defines the democratic deficit; political constraints, communitarian rights and national interests subordinate the individual freedoms; the E-media organization predominantly performs a political actor role at a local level, the nature and extent of which is defined by State-control over socio-political and economic domains; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is allocution
3.3
State-controlled information provision, national
the State exercises control over time and content of information provision and information storage, either through direct ownership or through ownership by politically affiliated organizations; the degree and nature of State-control partly defines the democratic deficit; political constraints, communitarian rights and national interests subordinate the individual freedoms; the E-media organization predominantly performs a political actor role at a national level, the nature and extent of which is defined by State-control of socio-political and economic domains; typically electronic mass media are used for this ideal-type; the related ITP is hard allocution

 

Registration patterns characterize a top-down development orientation, since such an approach is intrinsic to allocution or consultation patterns, because of the need to acquire basic information. The individual control of consultation patterns is often illusory, since a centrally controlled information source has to be consulted. Individual control over time of consultation, choice of subject and speed of information reception is typically constrained by a center.

 

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Case studies: Vietnam, Indonesia and Peru

The field research for the case studies was conducted in 1998 (Vietnam and Indonesia) and 1999 (Peru). Since the conclusion of the field research, significant political developments have taken place in both Indonesia and Peru. Although I have, to some extent, incorporated those developments in the case study analyses, I have excluded the most recent developments in Peru (the election of Alejandro Toledo as president) and Indonesia (Abdurrahman Wahid replaced by Megawati Soekarnopoetri as president) from my analyses.

Democratic deficits

This section contains my assessment of the value of the democratic deficits of Vietnam, Indonesia and Peru at the time of the respective field research periods and on the basis of the list of democratic elements, processes and practices described earlier in this paper.

Vietnam

TThe democratic deficit in 1999 was high for the following reasons:

  • the state of Vietnam's formal democratic institutions was determined by the one-party status of the Viet Nam Communist Party ("VNCP"), which prevented the election of truly representative government (national and local); it was difficult to perceive the conception of Vietnam's 1992 Constitution as democratic and popular political participation was restricted to VNCP controlled "consultations" for VNCP party members;
  • the electorate in Vietnam did not influence changes of government through elections and the VNCP exercised extensive control over the public debate;
  • despite having allowed economic reforms, the VNCP appeared to be intent on maintaining control in the political and social domain, as well as in the parts of the economic domain which are critical for information dissemination, such as telecom and mass media; participation in policy or decision-making processes was limited to VNCP cadres and bureaucrats;
  • individual political, social and economic freedoms were subordinated to the communitarian perspective on human rights, which was used to justify violations of individual human rights as being in the "common interest"; the result was that the freedom of speech and free information flows were seriously restricted;
  • a small power elite in the hierarchical and entwined dual administrative and political structure effectively controlled rural development and determined its almost completely top-down oriented nature; even though the influence of five-year plans on rural development had diminished, the State used legislation and regulation to determine and constrain the direction of rural development to one that did not challenge the legitimacy of the VNCP too strongly; and,
  • the role of electronic mass media was mostly restricted to providing officially approved information, an increase in independent information dissemination was unlikely to be provided by the State- or VNCP-controlled electronic mass media and a social actor role for independent electronic mass media seemed to be even less likely; networked E-media remained the domain of state-owned companies and limited political, social and economic freedom existed for private initiative to establish electronically mediated rural networks.

Indonesia

The value of the democratic deficit of Soeharto's Indonesia was situated between medium and high. The transition to a more democratic, but still centralized, nation-state, appeared to push the democratic deficit in 1999 to a medium level for the following reasons:

  • the toppling of the Soeharto regime had reduced Indonesia's democratic deficit; however, apart from improvements in the functioning of a number of formal democratic institutions and a reduction of the official political influence of the armed forces, not many significant improvements had been achieved concerning political decentralization and devolution of power and Soeharto's "unifying" Pancasila-ideology appeared to be unchallenged;
  • the largely nominal elections parliament, and indirectly for the presidency, during the Soeharto regime, had been replaced by elections which handed the electorate the power to vote for a change of government (still indirectly through parliament) and differences of opinion were freely expressed in public debate;
  • under Soeharto, popular political participation was limited and suppressed, but under Wahid restrictions on popular political participation appeared to lead to secessionist violence; popular participation in policy and decision-making process did still not exist;
  • the transition to a post-Soeharto regime increased the political freedoms, including the freedom of speech, but social opportunities and economic facilities remained largely unchanged;
  • the centralized and top-down approach to rural development was more institutionalized in Indonesia than in Vietnam, particularly because of the largely autonomous development bureaucracies; the dual political and administrative structure, as well as the politically-motivated separation between these two elements of the dual structure, allowed the powerful administrative structure (as opposed to the powerless political structure) to control the orientation, nature and content of rural development; and,
  • the most positive impact of the political changes concerned the contribution of E-media to information dissemination in rural areas; although the electronic mass media appeared to focus on politics, the increased political freedom allowed for independent local electronic mass media to play a social actor role in rural development; the contribution of networked E-media was politically possible, but the economic freedom was still limited and aware-ness of the potential of information dissemination through electronically mediated rural networks was limited.

Various interviewed experts expressed the opinion that freedom of speech and of the press had already increased under B.J. Habibie, if only de facto and not de jure. Under Wahid, the increased freedom of speech and the press were institutionalized in legislation.

Peru

The value of the democratic deficit in Peru in 1999 was medium in the short run, but in the low to medium range in the longer run. The reasons for assessing Peru in this way were the following:

  • the state of the formal democratic institutions in Peru was largely determined by a combination of two factors: President Fujimori's tendency towards autocratic rule and a lack of viable political alternatives caused by the continued disorganization of Peru's political parties; however, the 1993 Constitution offered formal support for a reduced democratic deficit and a new president (Toledo) has democratically been elected, reducing the democratic deficit seems to be a possibility;
  • the electorate in Peru had the power to change government (parliament and president) through elections and differences of opinion were widely expressed in public, even if at times attempts were undertaken to smother, or even silence, dissent;
  • in Peru, conditions for popular political participation were partly in place and the country had a particularly significant and active civil society, but participation was effectively being restricted by Fujimori's government; under Fujimori, the State appeared to be deliberately developing a dependency relation with its citizens in rural areas, but much could probably be attributed to Fujimori's autocratic tendencies;
  • the political freedom of expression was formally acknowledged through legislation, but economic legislation was used to favor "a-political" media expressions; in both urban and rural areas social opportunities and economic facilities were very limited for the majority of the population;
  • the approach to rural development was dominated by two factors: neo-liberal economic policies, which effectively resulted in a rural development policy vacuum, and the dependency relation created by the concentration of executive power and fund allocation in the office of the president and the affiliated Presidential Ministry ("MinPres"); contrary to Vietnam and Indonesia, Peru did not have an institutionalized development approach, which would have to be dismantled; and,
  • although a few political constraints existed, the transitional state of political, social and economic freedoms already supported a social actor role for electronic mass media and within civil society the awareness of the potential contribution of improved information dissemination through electronically mediated rural networks was clear; the main constraint to the role of E-media was the use of economic measures to control independent information dissemination, although the origins of those measures were of a political nature.

Despite the different models of democracy, and status of the formal democratic institutions, in the three countries, all three models appeared to have resulted in a small elite controlling most domains of society and in very limited popular participation in political, social and economic discussions and decision-making processes. From a perspective of participatory democratic processes, the assessment for all three countries was that only few participatory democratic processes existed, although Indonesia offered some opportunities for developments towards deepening democracy. In none of the three countries were conditions in place for Tanaka's ideal-type of participatory democracy.

Social opportunities for people in rural areas were limited, something which was also valid for individual economic freedoms. In Vietnam, political freedoms were restricted. In Peru, formal political freedoms, which seemed to be present, were constrained by deliberate strategies to undermine the political freedoms with neo-liberal economic policies. Indonesia was still in a state of flux, but the individual freedoms of people in rural areas appeared to be relatively limited and the flux appeared to be positive for political freedoms only.

Despite significant differences between development orientations in Vietnam and Indonesia on the one hand, and Peru on the other hand, the relation between the State and its citizens in rural areas appeared to be one of dependence in all three countries. In Vietnam and Indonesia, dependence was created by a centralized and top-down nature of the development approach. However, in Peru, the State seemed to use the poverty in rural areas, created by neo-liberal policies, to create dependencies, perhaps politically motivated, between poor people in rural areas and the State, with the latter allocating development funds.

Ideal-types of E-media information flows

Vietnam

The high value of the democratic deficit for Vietnam coincided with State-controlled E-media, which corresponded with the ideal-types for such a democratic deficit. Part of the explanation is the very cautious approach of the VNCP and the State towards information issues. Another element was the restriction on private enterprise in networked E-media. Together, these two factors seemed to limit non-governmental E-media initiatives to international organizations.

If the State-initiated and -supported ideal-types can be considered as an indicator of the value of the democratic deficit, the applications of E-media in information dissemination all pointed to a high democratic deficit. Legislation and regulation, as well as the lack of economic freedom, kept applications of E-media with a high level of interactivity mostly restricted to urban areas and a few rural towns. Furthermore, the information aspect of internationally sponsored networked E-media initiatives was strictly regulated by the government. In fact, working through official government channels arguably restricted the use of highly interactive technology because of the unfavorable democratic conditions. Information dissemination, electronically mediated through networks, was effectively controlled with respect to content and nature. This led to information patterns, generated by networked E-media, but with characteristics of allocution and allocution-like consultation patterns, rather than interactive consultation or conversation patterns, as is illustrated by Table 6.1.

 

Table 6.1: Ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination in Vietnam

 
interactivity
high
medium
low
value of the democratic deficit
low
NetNam, VAREnet
1.1
(independent information provision, local)
1.2
(independent information provision, national)
1.3
medium
SFIRS-network
2.1
(commercial information provision, local)
2.2
(commercial information provision, national)
2.3
high
Intranets, CINET, MARD-pilot, MCTs, ICPs
3.1
Local radio (People's Comm.)
3.2
VoV (radio), VTV (television)
3.3

 

Although identifying more applications of E-media was possible, the ideal-types 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 were definitely absent in rural areas and not feasible given the restrictions on political freedoms, as well as the limitations on individual economic freedoms in rural areas. The socio-political and economic context did not allow for local and independent or commercial provision of information (ideal-types 1.2 and 2.2), nor for national-level commercial or independent electronically mediated information provision following allocution patterns (ideal-types 2.2 and 2.3). The identifiable ideal-types point to a preference for allocution patterns and a prohibitive (ideal-types 1.2, 1.3, 2.2 and 2.3) and restrictive (ideal-types 1.1, 3.1) environment for consultation and conversation patterns. Although a need for increased individual social and economic freedoms in Vietnam also existed, the constraints resulting from a lack of political freedoms appeared to be the most prominent factor with respect to the role of E-media and the ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination in Vietnam in general, and in rural areas in particular.

Indonesia

The situation in Indonesia was slightly more complicated than in Vietnam, if only because of the political changes. The political freedom for E-media in Indonesia had already increased in the early months after Soeharto's resignation, which was illustrated by the openness of electronic mass media on issues previously considered too sensitive. However, reports and publications on Indonesia suggest that E-media are now using their increased freedom of speech to focus on political events, instead of on information dissemination to facilitate increased individual freedoms in rural areas or on playing a social actor role in development.

Policy documents and five-year plans indicated that the emphasis in Indonesia was on allocution and registration patterns and, therefore, on information provision through the State-owned electronic mass media and its local level branches. The value of the democratic deficit under Soeharto was estimated as ranging from medium to high. However, even under Soeharto the socio-political and economic context of Indonesia, illustrated by Table 6.2, was more E-media friendly than in Vietnam. Although most State initiatives corresponded with the high democratic deficit value associated with a top-down orientation of development, private initiatives indicated a medium democratic deficit value as a result of a larger political, and particularly a larger economic, freedom in Indonesia as compared to Vietnam. However, ideal-types 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 were largely absent in rural Indonesia, which may be partly have been due to a lack of economic facilities of organizations and people.

 

Table 6.2: Ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination in Indonesia

 
interactivity
high
medium
low
value of the democratic deficit
low
Indonesia-L (and others)
1.1
(independent information provision, local)
1.2
(independent information provision, national)
1.3
medium
CITN, PUPUK, Pos Indonesia
2.1
pre-dominantly commercial radio stations, local
2.2
pre-dominantly commercial electronic mass media, national
2.3
high
(information flow control)
3.1
local RRI branches,
3.2
RRI, TVRI, extension services
3.3

 

The Wahid administration did not appear to be as sensitive to the consequences of non-controlled information flows via the Internet as the VNCP in Vietnam. In Indonesia, the Internet was not as tightly regulated as in Vietnam and, in the larger cities on Java and in major tourist destinations, Internet access was widely available through commercial cyber-cafes and post offices. However, Internet access had not spread to rural areas of Indonesia, other than to a number of larger rural towns with Internet access in post offices. Similar to Vietnam, virtual communities (mailing lists) had been established, but participants of the information exchanges which took place on the Indonesian mailing lists (Indonesia-L is a good example) were pre-dominantly urban based. The changed political situation may already have created examples of local commercial radio stations which have shifted from providing solely entertainment to also disseminating information directed at specific needs of the rural population.

Although individual political freedoms increased under president Wahid, individual social and economic freedoms were still limited in rural Indonesia. The ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination indicate that the State, even under Soeharto, did not control the economic domain to the same extent as in Vietnam. As a result, commercial information dissemination could be identified. The relative economic freedom, in combination with a lack of awareness of the potential of the Internet on the part of government, led to only a few initiatives concerning networked E-media and information dissemination.

Peru

The situation in Peru was significantly different from Vietnam and Indonesia. Despite the democratic deficit, a number of the ideal-types which could be identified in rural Peru corresponded with a certain media friendliness of the socio-political and economic context. However, all the examples of electronic mass media, listed in ideal-types 1.2 and 1.3 of table 6.3, had been subjected to State scrutiny and to attempts at limiting their activities and impact.

 

Table 6.3: Ideal-types of electronically mediated information dissemination in Peru

 
interactivity
high
medium
low
value of the democratic deficit
low
Quipunet (U.S.-based NGO with membership in Peru)
1.1
Tierra Fecunda, Radio Onda Azul, Radiodifusion Andina, CNR/ALER, etc.
1.2
Frecuencia Latina
1.3
medium
CCTA-Red CINTEL, ITDG-CIDER,
2.1
pre-dominantly commercial radio stations, local
2.2
pre-dominantly commercial electronic mass media, national
2.3
high
(information flow control)
3.1
FEAS-Radio Campesinas, MinAg-extension services
3.2
(State-controlled information provision, national)
3.3

 

To restrict the activities of independent local electronic mass media, a law was proposed to reduce their income from commercial sources and provide funds through the State instead. As a result of Fujimori's neo-liberal economic policies, State-controlled E-media use virtually did not exist, except for some small projects concerning community radio stations. The government's preference was information provision through commercial electronic mass media conglomerates. Supportive neo-liberal economic conditions resulted in the acquisition of local stations by Lima-based media conglomerates.

As in Vietnam and Indonesia, limited individual social and economic freedoms in rural areas in Peru hampered the role for E-media in rural development. Formally, Peru did not restrict individual political freedoms, but the actual freedom of the press was under continuous pressure from the State. In addition, the State attempted to control electronically mediated information dissemination by influencing economic facilities in favor of a pre-dominantly economically-oriented information provision by media conglomerates. Economic policies were de facto political restrictions and the representations of ideal-types 1.2 and 1.3, in particular 1.2, increasingly faced legislative and regulatory economic constraints.

 

++++++++++

Conclusions

The main objective of the case studies was to illustrate a suggested relationship among (i) one aspect of the socio-political and economic context of nation-states, notably the values of democratic deficits, (ii) the intrinsic interactivity of E-media, and (iii) the preferred and actual interactivity of E-media in facilitating information dissemination for rural development.

The comparison provides for some interesting conclusions. Despite clear deficiencies in the political systems of Indonesia and Peru, the democratic deficit gradually decreased from Vietnam to Indonesia to Peru, with an accompanying improvement in the freedom of speech for electronic mass media. Vietnam did not allow independent electronic mass media, Indonesia restricted those E-media to entertainment and Peru allowed some national and local electronic mass media to provide independent information and to perform a social actor role.

Parallel to decreasing democratic deficits, the political freedom of speech was being interpreted less in political terms from Vietnam to Indonesia to Peru, but more so in economic terms of legislation and regulation. The three case study countries illustrated that the political freedom to free speech is likely to be larger in countries with a lower democratic deficit, but that economic policies can compensate, to a certain extent, for the absence of political control over information dissemination. The general situation for networked E-media also appeared to improve with decreasing democratic deficits, by and large as a result of a shift in priority from communitarian to individual rights. An emphasis on free markets, which seemed to coincide with this shift, allowed for private initiatives with networked E-media and more individual control over content and nature of information flows. However, a reliance on free market mechanisms also appeared to increase the possibility of a substitution of political controls with economic policies, legislation and regulation, which favored information dissemination through E-media on the basis of an economic rationale alone. Peru's neo-liberal economic context was beneficial to the expansion of infrastructure for networked E-media, whereas Vietnam's political context strictly limited free information flows through those E-media. With respect to Indonesia, its economic context was less conducive than Peru, but its political context was less restrictive than that in Vietnam. The intermediate position of Indonesia's socio-political and economic context is also reflected in the presence of ideal-types linked to networked E-media. In short, the case studies appear to support a relation between the values of democratic deficits and the levels of interactivity of E-media used for information dissemination in rural areas. Although the approaches to rural development varied from authoritarian and State-controlled (Vietnam) to a laissez-faire reliance on the trickle-down effects of free market mechanisms and a limited economic role by the State (Peru), all three States favor centralization of executive power in the name of development and under the guise of sovereignty of the nation-state instead of sovereignty of the people.

Finally, although the comparison suggests that, with respect to infrastructure and numbers of enterprises, E-media benefit from increased levels of economic development, higher levels of economic development did not appear to influence the actual interactive use of E-media to the same extent. At the same time, economic development did not necessarily appear to preclude increased free information flows for the benefit of rural development. Governments still appeared to be capable of seriously influencing, if not controlling, the content, direction and nature of information flows, either through political restrictions of through neo-liberal economic legislation. However, economic legislation appeared to be far less effective than political restrictions, which implicates that the value of the democratic deficit of a nation-state still determines whether electronically mediated information flows will "ignore geographical boundaries", "transcend national borders" and "open up large pools of information". The value of the democratic deficit determines the extent to which the "liberating potential" of ICTs, or E-media, will benefit rural development in developing countries. End of article

 

About the Author

After having obtained his PhD degree in political science with the University of Amsterdam for his dissertation "Electronic Media in Rural Development", Robin van Koert is now working on an evaluation project on Intranet- and Internet-based work spaces for Amnesty International's International Secretariat in London, U.K. His dissertation addresses the relation between the intrinsic interactivity of electronic media and the extent to which the socio-political and economic context of a nation-state allows for that interactivity to be used to its full potential to freely disseminate information. For his PhD he has conducted field research in Indonesia, Vietnam and Peru. An industrial engineer by training, he has worked in the textile industry in the Netherlands, as well as in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. A related article has been published in First Monday in February 2000. His dissertation and two more anecdotical articles on brief exploratory visits to Ghana and Mali in the first stages of his research project can be found at http://www.btinternet.com/~rvankoert/ and on the CS Research page of his home page at http://www.robinvankoert.co.uk.
E-mail: robinvankoert@btinternet.com
E-mail: robin_van_koert@yahoo.com

 

References

A.I. Goldman, 1999, Knowledge in a Social World. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

K.M. Roberts, 1998. Deepening Democracy? The Modern Left and Social Movements in Chile and Peru. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

E.M. Rogers, 1995. Diffusion of Innovations. Fourth edition. New York: Free Press.

Martin Tanaka, 1999. "Del Movimientismo a la Media-Política," In: J. Crabtree and J. Thomas (editors). El Peru de Fujimori, 1990-1998. Lima, Perú: Universidad del Pacifico, Centro de Investigacion, pp. 411-436.

 

Appendix: Glossary for the Tables

 

Country
Organization
Description
Vietnam
NetNam
Internet-based mailing list
 
VAREnet
Internet-based mailing list
 
SFIRS-network
A network linking various agricultural research institutions, set up and run by a Swiss NGO
 
CINET
Culture & Information Network: a network run by the Ministry of Information and aiming at providing approved content through a network of nodes in cities.
 
MARD-pilot
Ministry of Agricultural & Rural Development: a pilot involving the use of networked technology to provide information to rural areas.
 
MCT
Multipurpose Communication Telecenter: an ITU initiative for installing small-scale, high tech communication centers in rural areas to provide access to ICT.
 
ICP
Internet Content Provider: the Vietnamese government made a distinction between Internet Access Providers (gateway administrator, a state-owned monopoly), Internet Service Providers (providing company or individual access) and Internet Content Providers, the latter operating as approved providers for content on the Internet.
 
VoV
Voice of Vietnam: Vietnam's state-owned radio station.
 
VTV
Vietnam Television: Vietnam's state-owned television station.
     
Indonesia
Indonesia-L
Internet-based mailing list
 
CITN
Canada Indonesia Technology Network: a semi-government organization establishing a network of experts linked with each other and a center through e-mail facilities.
 
PUPUK
Indonesian development NGO, using the Internet for communication, information provision and offering access to information.
 
Pos Indonesia
Indonesia's postal services, which had established a network of post office based nodes providing access to the Internet in larger towns (linked through VSAT).
 
RRI
Radio Republik Indonesia: Indonesia's state-owned radio station.
 
TVRI
Televisi Republik Indonesia: Indonesia's state-owned television station.
     
Peru
Quipunet
U.S.-based NGO with membership predominantly in Peru.
 
CCTA-Red CINTEL
Network of a Lima-based development NGO, aimed at providing access to its archives, through the Internet-based network, to associated NGOs.
 
Tierra Fecunda, Radio Onda Azul, Radiodifusion Andina
Local, small-scale radio stations with education and development oriented objectives.
 
CNR
Coordinadora Nacional de Radio: a Lima-based NGO and an association of education/development oriented radio stations
 
Frecuencia Latina
Independent Lima-based television station often critical of the Fujimori government.
 
ITDG-CIDER
Layered (local, regional, national) network set up by a Lima-based NGO (parent organization in the U.K.) to collect and disseminate locally generated information.
 
FEAS-Radio Campesinas
Internationally funded and government supported initiative of local radio stations.
 
MinAg
Ministry of Agriculture: information provision through local radio stations.

 


Editorial history

Paper received 29 November 2001; accepted 25 March 2002.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2002, First Monday

The Impact of Democratic Deficits on Electronic Media in Rural Development by Robin Van Koert
First Monday, volume 7, number 4 (April 2002),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue7_4/koert/index.html





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