Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Alternative Media and Democracy

Posted by butalidnl on 15 February 2010

Alternative media is going to change Philippine democracy. By alternative media, I would include social networking sites like Facebook, as well as blogging, websites, Twitter, and YouTube.  And it would even include, by extension: mobile telephones with voice and SMS, Flickr, e-mail etc.

We are now seeing lots of alternative media active in the 2010 election campaign – from candidates websites and Facebook pages, to independent initiatives like BlogWatch, to lots of independent bloggers, and of course ordinary people’s Tweets and Social Networking sites.  At this moment, alternative media is all over the place, but is not yet strong enough to enable a candidate to win. But this will change with time: who knows, maybe next elections in 2013 will witness the first time when some local candidates will win as a result of an internet campaign.

As we said, the alternative media is growing in strength and in its impact on democracy.  After the elections, the question may be asked: what does alternative media do? Well, let us lay out some aspects of what it could do.

Corruption Watch
Alternative media could help in catching and preventing corruption from elected officials and bureaucrats. For one, a lot of the dealings of government officials could be posted on the internet. The budget and actual expense items of the various national government offices and LGUs could be posted. Lifestyle survey findings could also be posted. Anti-corruption action sites could be made, to which people could tweet, SMS or e-mail tips and leads. These could then be taken up by blogs (data-mined, analysed, and commented on), and if need be posted on Facebook and other social  media.

The bureaucracy is a source of what is called “petty corruption”, with fixers asking for money to help people get a drivers license, accomplish and submit income tax returns, get GSIS or SSS benefits etc.  What if people would set up “honest citizens’ desks” in the LTO, BIR, GSIS, etc. where volunteers would help out ordinary citizens with their applications. These desks would double as assistance centers and complaints desks for ordinary citizens, and they would be online through blogs. Many problems with these offices would be blogged about, and get the necessary mileage in social networking sites; and citizens can always contact these by SMS, Tweet or blogs. I’m sure petty corruption will be lessened, and efficiency increased as a result of this.

Facilitating Government Services
Alternative media is not limited to criticizing officials – it could also facilitate the delivery of government services. Various government office websites could offer online services.  This would either eliminate or shorten the need to go to the various offices. And then there is the case of a government information channel. Other countries have this – a general information channel, both online and by telephone, so that citizens could find out where they need to go, and what they need to present. And, an online citizen report channel – telling where there are potholes or problems with the bureaucracy; thus, this would be sort of a “complaints box”, but online.

When government programs would be launched, they should be matched by a website, and a blog, for monitoring of its implementation. For example, if there is a new sex education program to be launched in public schools;  a website/blog arrangement would be useful for parents who have questions, for children who missed out on a module, or any citizen for that matter who would like to contribute to the program.

Monitoring the Formation of Policy
Then there could be those who monitor the legislative and executive decision making. Just imagine that there would be blogs covering legislative working committees and the plenaries which would report and when necessary mobilize public opinion to move legislation.  Public discussions of the various bills would help to push them forward.

Congressmen and senators today can hide behind the fact that their work is not covered that much by the media. But what would happen when there would be TV coverage of Congress plenaries, websites monitoring the progress of proposed bills, blogs covering committee meetings, and websites monitoring the distribution of “pork barrel”? I think this would make them behave much better than they do today.

Interaction, Combination
In all this, there would be combination of various forms of alternative media: from SMS to website, to blogs and social networking sites. But there also need to be work in the old low-tech way, with people actually lobbying in Congress, or operating various “honest citizens desks”, or even demonstrating in the streets. Alternative  media is just an aid to action, it doesn’t replace action.

There would also be interaction between alternative media and more traditional media: newspapers, radio and TV. More and more, blogs and websites would be featured in traditional media, and these same blogs and websites extend the reach of traditional media in their turn.  A simple petition or statement of local import could become known nationwide when it gets posted in a blog or facebook page, and then gets picked up by the media.

Democracy needs people’s participation, and alternative media gives an added dimension to this participation.  With this development, perhaps the Philippines can overcome things like corruption, political dynasties, nonperforming officials, etc.

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