Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Experiments in democracy

I was interested to learn the other day that Spain was officially classified as a member of the developing world up to 1964. (For rather obvious reasons Franco's regime missed out on the Marshall plan for Europe.)

Anyway, here in 2008 they have some general elections in the pipeline and RTVe has marked the occasion with a YouTube page (www.youtube.es/elecciones08) where each party has a video channel and ordinary citizens can upload their video interviews.

Last month the organisers of the World Economic Forum in Davos also decided to use YouTube to sound out public opinion and received 250 or so filmed answers to the question 'What is the one thing that could be done to make the world a better place?'

I was amused to hear Tony Curzon Price, Editor-in-Chief of Opendemocracy.org decribe this little experiment on the BBC's Digital Planet as "the most appalling piece of business populism". Going on to liken it to the Saudi monarch's "court of petitions" and a "dictatorship of business interests", he then decried this and other examples of the "translation of the metaphor of business into politics." and of the pretence of public consultation that is now very much in vogue. Real politics, he concluded, "is where the people involved in the process have some power."

Mark Adams, the Davos meeting's comms chief, was on hand to reaffirm that his was a "multi-stakeholder organisation". Perceptively, he suggested that Curzon Price's real problem was probably YouTube and not their use of it: "Maybe Tony doesn't think we should ask ordinary people their views..." (I don't think Tony did, as he later made a clear association between this kind of consultation and populism.)

1 comment:

tony.curzonprice said...

hi, blogador

i'm glad you enjoyed my radio3 exchange on the wef youtube experiment.

did you notice the sliding around on numbers. mark first tried to give the impression that they had "2 million opinions" from the experiment. then, under a bit of pressure (the side hides the number quite carefully), he admitted that he'd had just 250 videos.

this underlines 2 things:
1. he would like to have had 2 million, for purposes of legitimacy
2. if he really had had 2 million, he wouldn't really have been able to do anything with them. How can you compress 2 million views into some small set that can be judged on --- well, by some political process of organisation. There is no populist, unmediated alternative.