Global Agenda Council on Informed Societies 2012-2013
It has long been argued that a healthy democracy requires an informed citizenry. The theoretical foundations of this argument assume that media would serve this purpose: citizens would receive impartial and objective information, delivered to them via a free and diverse media, leading to a robust exchange of opinions. Members of society would therefore be able to participate fully in community decisions and democracy would flourish.
In practice, it is widely acknowledged that the media has not served this purpose. Concentrations of ownership, the assimilation of mass media, concerns over private interests – in everything ranging from advertising to sourcing – have forced a re-think of the respected notions of free speech, impartiality and objectivity. With the recent rise in communication technologies, this problem has become more pertinent than ever. The speed at which news is disseminated has increased, the channels through which information is sourced have changed, and the platforms have multiplied, challenging the ability of media organizations to ensure accurate and unbiased reports. At the same time, the largest media groups have a near-monopoly on news coverage, resulting in issues and groups being under-represented.
Given this disconnect between theory and reality, the question remains: what needs to be done to foster the development of an informed society? The fundamental problems surrounding media are persistent and likely to endure. Nonetheless, it remains important to address issues of transparency and accountability, media literacy and privacy. The remaining priority is perhaps the most exciting, and concerns the integration of new communication channels into media; in particular, the empowerment of citizens through citizen journalism and the new opportunities for engaging members of society in public participation. Fundamentally, the priority is to develop a model for a society in which all citizens would have access to reliable and pertinent information, allowing them to make better-informed decisions.
- Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea occupy the last three positions in the most recent Press Freedom Index – all three are ruled by dictators.
- Finland and Norway are joint leaders of the Press Freedom Index; 2012 saw the lowest number (three) of Scandinavian countries appear in the top 10 since 2008.
- American adult ownership of cell phones is at its highest rate ever, with 88% of Americans over 18 owning a cell phone.
“There are many constituencies that can contribute to creating an informed society. It is not just government leaders, it is business leaders, the media themselves and individual citizens that increasingly need to take responsibility for their own information diet.”
Don Tapscott, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Tapscott Group
“There is a concern that the economic system is suffering because key workers at a senior level are overloaded with information. They are not burning out, they are tuning out – there needs to be a new form of navigation and curation of information in our societies today.”
Julia Hobsbawm, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Editorial Intelligence
World Conference on International Telecommunications
3-14 December 2012
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
World Press Freedom Day
3 May 2013
World Summit on the Information Society
13-17 May 2013
The overall vision of the Global Agenda Council on Informed Societies is to identify and raise awareness of how different stakeholders can ensure that all citizens have access to reliable information to make informed decisions, whether they concern politics, economics, sustainable choices, and so on. In particular, the Council has two key areas of focus, which are heavily interlinked: first, to develop a Code of Conduct for Government Leaders, and, second, to produce an Index on Informed Societies.
The Code is intended as a model for states that are trying to identify how citizens can gain access to reliable information in order to make informed decisions. The Council has developed key analytical criteria and will design the Code as an objective guide for government leaders. The four components of the Code are: transparency, media literacy, privacy and empowerment of citizens. The Index will use these criteria to rank countries according to their current status in achieving fully informed societies. Although it will be regularly updated, part of its purpose will also be to act as a reference point for pressure groups to encourage their governments to make progress towards an informed society. Going beyond these two focus areas, the Council will also encourage governments to adopt the Code as a step towards the advancement of informed societies, both domestically and internationally.
Research Analyst: Stefan Hall, Global Agenda Councils, email@example.com
Council Manager and Communications Research Analyst: Alexandra May, firstname.lastname@example.org
Forum Lead: Adrian Monck, Managing Director, Communications, email@example.com