New Media and the Question of African Democracy

New Media and the Question of African Democracy

Aziz Douai (University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada) and Anthony A. Olorunnisola (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4197-6.ch001
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This introductory chapter maps out the trajectory of democratization in Africa and how old and new forms of mass media remain embedded in these efforts. Drawing on decades of media and political science research, the authors argue that no genuine democracy may exist without a vibrant media environment. Democracy thrives on “transparency” and “difference,” and the media offer the platforms most suitable to ensure their existence and proliferation. The authors provide a theoretical grounding in order to further delineate the democracy media nexus, and review recent approaches to a systematic study of how communication technologies further or reverse the cause of social and political change. The authors conclude with a synoptic look at the important contributions published in this volume.
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The Democracy/Media Nexus: Africa’S “Lost” Decades

The advent of mass media has coincided with the growing legitimacy of modern democracy as a form of governance. Since liberal democracy is predicated on the rule of law, free elections, press freedom and civil society (Henze, 1998), a brief look at how it functions would reveal a symbiotic relationship between the democracy and media. Democracy involves the peaceful competition among political actors and parties to implement their social and economic vision in a society. Instead of resorting to arms and guns to settle ideological disputes, these political actors resort to the ballot box through which voters voice their support for or rejection of a political platform or a leader. Democracy involves “checks and balances,” the institutional constraints placed on those who gain voter support, what is usually known as the executive branch of government. A third condition or aspect of democracy is ensuring that all citizens have the right to express their opinions and enjoy their civil liberties without fear of reprisal. In all these steps of the democratic ladder, the news media enhance the democratic process. The news media offer a platform to these political actors to air and share their visions with voters and the rest of society. The media’s coverage of elections not only seek to hold political candidates to task, but they guarantee most citizens and voters sufficient information to make informed judgments about the merits of each election’s platforms. Finally, the media strengthen those “checks and balances” in their “watchdog” functions on those who wield political power. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights captures this link between these two fundamental freedoms:

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