Information alone is never enough

A while ago I took a look at how well the South African government was using their website to communicate with the public in the interests of cyberdemocracy.  I thought it useful to look at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa’s (Idasa) website under a similar lens; with the question being ‘how is Idasa making use of the internet?’

Idasa is an internationally recognised public interest group “committed to promoting sustainable democracy based on active citizenship, democratic institutions, and social justice. With its international links, the internet offers a better opportunity to communicate and mobilise than any other medium.

The organisation grew out a need for “an alternative to the politics of repression”. Their aim to create “a democratic culture in SA and strategic interventions to help the new democracy take root” make them an interesting group to look at with reference to e-politics.

Idasa uses the internet to communicate with the general public. Initiations to events and information about exhibitions are placed on the home page. One can also find articles on workshop reports, news stories (mostly about African countries) and a bookshelf where users can read reviews of books deemed important.

Educating the public enables informed decisions which would aid and strengthen any democracy. On their homepage, Idasa posts important information relevant to the programmes they run at the time. Currently they have information about their Party Funding Campaign. They also have information about community and citizen empowerment, governance and aids and safety and security to name a few.

Idasa fulfils their task of trying to create a culture of democracy by being a great platform for citizens to access information, possibly get involved and educate themselves about political issues. However, when it comes to using internet technologies to create a space for debate and conversation, the website falls short.

Idasa has a newsletter to which users can subscribe however there is no place for user feedback, comment or opinion…not even on the “peace building and dialogue” page! There a ‘contact us” page complete with the contact details of Cape town and Kutlwanong democracy centres and contacts for the various programmes Idasa is involved in.

For a democracy to be strong and for effective political engagement for the public they need to be well informed about their political landscape. Open discussion is an important part of that process. In his defence of free speech, John Stuart Mill says that even unpopular opinions should be allowed to be expressed as their authors can be corrected in an open public debate.

Access to information is essential to any democracy. However, it is useless if the public does not know the many ways that information affects them. Discursive spaces are essential for the exchange of ideas and the growth of any nation.

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