Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Democracy as the Standard

I recently asked the question, Should democracies be held to a higher standard? There was a very good discussion the comments, but I thought that Cliff from Promethian Antagonist gave as good an answer as I’ve ever seen to this:
The countries of the world in general should be held to a democratic standard (don't expect help from the U.N. in this regard).

Democracy -- when it is genuinely attempted -- is a higher standard.

But I am left with another question. As I mused in the comments of that original post, “What would it look like if the media and citizens of democracies held the world’s nations to the standard of democracy?”

To begin answering this question, I want to state that I think the purpose of the news media is to inform citizens so that they can make good decisions, especially about their government. And, where their government is entangled with foreign governments, those governments should be explored and explained by the media just as much as our own, something the media on just about every level is failing to do.

I think most Americans, though they may know it intellectually, really don’t understand in any kind of meaningful way that many other nations really have no free speech or assembly rights, and that governments often simply manufacture history to keep their grip on their people. For example, the fact that street demonstrations are not necessarily about any real grievances, but rather often about government-generated (or power-group-generated) issues that may or may not exist, and that in many nations they cannot even take place without government endorsement at some level. I believe this is very important for Americans to know when they are being given like a report on riots or street demonstrations in another country. This is the needed context a journalist can give, rather than just the straight reporting of events. (There’s an interesting post that discusses some of these issues over at Dr. Demarche. Make sure to read the comments.)

As a concrete example, in a news article about anti-Japanese demonstrations in China sparked by Japanese history texts that whitewash Japan’s WWII crimes, it would be important to mention that Chinese history texts also whitewash their history, and that the Chinese don’t have the right to assemble, so the demonstrations must have at least tacit government approval to continue. An astute reporter might also mention that China and Japan currently have a number of political disagreements, over natural gas deposits in the Pacific for instance, and that democratic Japan has to give weight to public opinion, while communist China doesn't. Consequently, our highly dedicated reporter would write, the intentions of any attempt by China to influence Japanese public opinion must at least be questioned.

This would be the type of reporting I would find most useful. It doesn’t actually make democracy the standard, but it does compare and contrast, and I think most citizens of democratic nations would hold foreign nations to democratic standards if they knew these things.

No comments: