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Everyone from President Obama to Ted Koppel is bemoaning a decline in journalistic substance, seriousness, and sense of proportion. But the author, a longtime advocate of these values, takes a journey through the digital-media world and concludes there isn’t any point in defending the old ways. Consumer-obsessed, sensationalist, and passionate about their work, digital upstarts are undermining the...
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Is Belgium the test-bench for democracy 2.0?
FS: And what is the second reason for this crisis in Belgian politics?
DVR: It is the enormous change that new media have brought to professional politics: the involvement of citizens has become significantly more important. Every step a politician takes, every negotiation he is involved in, finds its way into the press immediately. Previously, discretion could sometimes be effective for months: politicians would get together and thrash out a compromise that they could all live with. Then they went and defended the compromise before their party and their electors. Now, every move they make is immediately a political fact. Politicians do not talk to each other any more – they have not been talking to each other in Belgium for months – but they talk to their voters all the time. They are, as it were, paralysed by the public, whose influence is becoming more and more evident.
FS: So, democracy is undergoing major change?
DVR: Yes, most certainly. The public today can follow the political process from one moment to the next but is only asked to give its opinion every four years. This is completely new. I think that we are approaching the end of representative democracy. The idea that elections are key moments no longer holds water, and you can see that everywhere. I am just reading The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane, and I entirely agree with his conclusions. Belgium, in my view, does not represent the surreal rearguard of European states. I think that what we are seeing here, a little earlier than elsewhere, the same challenges as people will have to face everywhere. The Belgian problem – linked with the country's constitution – is actually part of a much larger problem that could be summed up by asking the following question: what will democracy 2.0 be like?
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