A digital democracy is emerging

October 4, 2010

A pioneering conference in Erbil last week provided a much-needed look at Iraq’s technological future.
It offered unprecedented discussion of how Iraq can use technology, information and e-governance to re-establish its strong economic, intellectual and political standing in the region.
The two-day conference, organized by international media development agencies the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) and IREX, explored the innumerable ways Iraq can develop its emerging democracy by utilizing technology to harness the information revolution.
Information and communication are keys to creating a healthy society; one in which the public is engaged, informed and empowered, while the government is responsive, transparent and accountable.
At the heart of this “revolution” is a free and unfettered flow of information to the public. This info-stream cannot happen by leaving technological advancement to take its own course; the process must be managed.
The use of communication technologies is increasing by the second. Iraq is well placed to benefit from this accelerated pace. By handling this transition wisely, chaos and confusion can be avoided.
It is the duty of the government, the media and the public to see this transition through and develop Iraq’s “digital democracy.”
This new technological landscape is changing old ways of receiving and transmitting information. We, too, should change. The public, the media and government can all play important roles in shaping the future.
Information empowers the public and enables individuals to learn their rights as well as how exercise and protect them. Information is always a key tool in combating corruption.
With today’s technologies, individuals have increasingly become information providers. Any citizen can take a picture, record a video or write something, and then post it immediately on the Internet for the entire world to see.
The media in Iraq can promote public awareness about the need for information and its benefits. It can also disseminate information on public services and rights awareness.
Public media provide a forum to voice dissatisfaction, as well as demand accountability and action. It is, after all, a forum for public debate. The most important role of media, however, is to create a public that is informed enough to be critical and analytical of any information received.
Our media market is saturated with low quality, and often downright bad, products. Even so, no authority can or should close them down.
The only party that can do this is the public. If credible and professional media creates a media-literate public that can interpret, analyze and use the information, there would be no market for bad media in Iraq.
The best avenue for the government to take is to lift all obstacles on communication and access to information. For example, develop legislation for the people’s right to information, strengthen the mechanisms for access to information through e-governance, and work on increasing Internet access by allowing the private sector to enter the service provision market.
In the new technological landscape, fair play is the only way to win in the long run.

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