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Enhancing Democracy Through Digital Communication Systems Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 1847 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this essay, I aim to discuss whether the digital communication systems enhance democracy by offering greater access and participation to citizens as compared to traditional media. I will address this by defining the terms ‘digital communication systems’ and ‘democracy’ and exploring the differences in digital communication systems and traditional media and how these differences lead to enhancement of democracy on digital communication systems.

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Digital communication systems also known as network communication or new media simply refers to “a constant reformulation of the relations between the media forms, interconnecting interpersonal communications established between different media in a network based on the interactions between users, mass media companies and, perhaps, regulators” (Cardoso, 2011: 119). The digital communication system, as the name suggests, makes use of digital technology and devices and comprises of the Internet, mobile communications, and social media and so on.

As compared to traditional media, such as the newspaper, radio and television, digital media offers more opportunities of democracy as it provides greater accessibility and allows for more participation by consumers.

The arrival of social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and others changed the Internet (Cardoso, 2011: 131). These social platforms have the most impact on how digital communication systems enhance democracy.


Firstly, content flow is less controlled over the Internet as compared to traditional media. Traditional media is still largely regulated by the state and/or media owners. Depending on the country, the media institution may be governed by the state or by private media owners. The owners of the institution direct the type of news that is broadcasted. Simply put “within a specific old medium, people do not have many choices” (Wei and Hindman, 2011: 220)

An example would be the direction taken by media in Singapore.

The media organisation in Singapore, MediaCorp, is owned by the Government and therefore, media is heavily regulated and news published will either be neutral or in favour of the Government. Not just with news, the types of programmes aired by MediaCorp are more conservative and slanted towards the Government (Seow, 1998: 183 – 194). Only through the Web are citizens able to express their views on the Government and its policies and receive and collect more diverse opinions from fellow citizens and not just a one-sided direction by the traditional media.

With digital media, content on the Internet is available to almost everyone and anyone. There are limitations and regulations on the Web when it comes to content sourcing, however, with the advancement of technology; it is easily possible to get round that limitation and regulation. (Jin, 2011: 42) According to Bonfadelli, Wei and Hindman states that “in contrast to traditional mass media, the new media such as the Internet provide much more diverse content and an unprecedented level of user controllability. The content supply on the Internet is not structured by journalists and is, therefore, heterogeneous and potentially unlimited” (Wei and Hindman, 2011: 220).

Jin gives an example of the criminal conviction of Conrad Black. As “one of the most influential controllers of the global commercial media system”, the conviction of Black “confirms that people should not place all their trust in the mainstream media” (Jin, 2011: 43) He explains that there is a need for the audience to produce alternative information sources and platforms for expression of their opinions. Only then will society be able to expand the “avenues within interactive social networking and communication” (Jin, 2011: 43).

All the audience needs is ‘a click of the button’ on their laptops or mobile phones and news and information will be readily available for consumption. A citizen from Australia can find out about happenings in Africa and be able to obtain viewpoints from different sources, and not just the one perspective that traditional media provides, all while on-the-go or from the comfort of his house.

Secondly, audience participation helps enhance democracy as it becomes more active with the development of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as with the growth of blogs and forums. Consumers interact on these sites and get almost instantaneous response. The popularity of these sites also gives rise to citizen journalism, whereby the consumers become the producers, putting their content – whether it’s their view on an issue or an original work of theirs – onto the Web. “The intent of this citizen participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, widespread and appropriate information that is required to strengthen the democracy” (Riaz and Pasha, 2011: 90) All these forms of audience participation give voice to the issues of the world.

The digital communication systems can have political impact on a country as well. A country’s laws and policies can be shaped as the citizens’ use of digital communications system changes. For example, some individuals and parties have taken to the Web for their presidential elections, such as the Barrack Obama’s presidential campaign. Obama’s successful online strategy in 2008, with the use of social networking sites saw Obama winning the election to becoming the President of the United States. With the elections on-going in the states now, President Obama has taken to social media again – Reddit in particular. This time, Mitt Romney followed suit, taking over Twitter to gain foothold. Social media makes it easier for candidates to interact with the citizens and vice versa.

Global Voices Online is an example of how audience participation online encourages democracy. According to its website, “Global Voice seeks to aggregate, curate and amplify the global conversation online – shining light on places and people other media often ignore. We work to develop tools, institutions and relationships that will help all voices, everywhere, to be heard” (Global Voice, 2011). Global Voices Online acts as a platform for “free, diverse and neutral voices” (Riaz and Pasha, 2011: 90) and having “more voices in the public arena can add to a more lively democracy” (Riaz and Pasha, 2011: 93).

These multimedia platforms have enabled “new ways of bearing witness through technology and the ability to create ‘media events’; raise issues of aesthetics, cognitive distance or proximity as well as our ability to empathize and relate to human suffering” (Jin, 2011: 124).

This differs from traditional media where feedback and a consumer’s voice can only be heard if the media institution decides to broadcast it. Therefore, even traditional media institutions have jumped onto the Internet and social media bandwagon, inheriting “the notion that it is important to keep abreast with of what’s going on in the world so as to be not caught off-guard and be able to react accordingly” (Cardoso, 2011: 120)

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Thirdly, the “intercreative possibilities of social Web practices are leading to different kinds of representations and constructions of truth” (Boler, 2008: 6). Boler explains the statement using the Persian Gulf War in 1991 as an example. She explains that “one could not ‘evidence’ the deceptions of television news spin” easily as public archives could not be made, but now, information and sometimes, videos are easily accessible off the Internet that consumers now are able to easily determine what is factual and what is not.

Consumers now demand and expect the truth. With the reach and accessibility of digital communications, political, education and the other institutions are pressured into ‘doing the right thing’ and media institutions are pressured to report the truth. This is because “citizen journalists have wrecked the stories about political corruption, police violence and other concerning issues to local and international communities” (Riaz and Pasha, 2011: 92). It has become harder for the media, Government and any other corporations to get away when injustice has been done by them. An example would be China.

After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, China experienced an “unprecedented openness” in its media coverage (BBC News, 2008). Citizen journalism started flourishing as the “Chinese media (were) instructed not to cover this kind of story, and a member of BBC and five other journalists were detained for a short time for approaching the parents” (BBC News, 2008). ‘This kind of story’ referring to articles on local corruption resulting in “shoddy construction” (BBC News, 2008). Unless a valid explanation was provided by the Chinese Government, talk on corruption causing the death of 87,000 citizens will not disappear. The Chinese Government then went to the extreme by sentencing activists who were investigating the cause of collapsing buildings to jail. The Chinese media might have avoided reporting on corruption and the cause of collapsed buildings, but it was not possible to stop citizen journalism from spreading like wildfire.


The Internet could also become a double-edged sword as the freedom on the Web leads to misuse of the freedom and of the technology. As content become increasingly available to the public, piracy and copyright has become a major concern. The public now has free access to information and entertainment that previously had to be paid for. Now that it’s free, would the consumers want to pay for it? They do not, which is what led to the drastic increase in consumers downloading songs, videos and even e-books online through sites like LimeWire.

In situations like this, the Internet does not enhance democracy but instead, undermines the value of the work by the original owner.


The digital communication systems have greatly impacted not just the media industry, but also on education, politics, cultural and social aspects. The consumers rely on the media to “separate facts and tangible realities from assumptions and spin, to provide a reliable account of what is really going on” (Hettiarachchi, 2011). Only with an unbiased and factual report will the consumers be able to form their own viewpoint. With less regulated content flow, audience participation on social media and the constant demand for truth, digital communication systems are increasingly enhancing democracy as compared to traditional media.


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