Media Citizenship – A new charter for an informed society

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By Charlie Beckett*, Director, POLIS, London School of Economics and Political Science

It has been an extraordinary year for news around the world since we last gathered as a council. And every dramatic event has reinforced the need for our mission: to find a better way to create properly Informed Societies.

Think about the role of the media in the Arab Spring. Think of the importance of good information during the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear panic. Just consider the complexity of the economic crisis sweeping the globe from Greece to America.

While some people are using media to change their world, others are desperately struggling for the media that will help them understand what is going on. In an uncertain world where media itself is changing so fast, we need much more serious attention to, and investment in better communications.

Our Informed Societies council was only launched last year but we immediately set out a bold agenda around the idea we formulated of ‘Media Citizenship’. The concept asserts that you can’t be properly part of political, economic or social life in the digital era unless you have effective and open communications.

Our council said that the public needed more access to good information from governments, business and civic society. But we also said that citizens needed to be empowered with the skills and understanding to make use of the extraordinary new media technologies that offer such potential for communication.

Thanks to the Internet we now have a super-abundance of information, but a shortage of reliable, open and useful data. We have a wealth of forums and networks that allow us to interact, but there is still a lack of constructive and deliberative debate. There are still sections of society and parts of the world that do not enjoy access to these new technological tools or do not have the freedom to enjoy them to their full extent.

Over the last year, this message about Media Citizenship has resonated with all the people I have met around the world. The reaction at the Davos meeting and through contacts with other members of Forum was that, yes, better communications and an informed public is vital to the success of just about all the organisation’s various initiatives.

So the task of this year’s council will be to come up with ideas to put this into practice. We’ll also be looking for good models, effective case studies and bright ideas from other councils about how good media can be turned into healthier societies. So come and inform us.

*Charlie Beckett is Director, POLIS, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Informed Societies and is attending the Summit on the Global Agenda 2011 held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 10-11 October.

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