International Day of Democracy

Mercedes Medina

Image by : Carolina Jaramillo / Shutterstock

The International Day of Democracy, commemorated on September 15th, is not only necessary to raise awareness about the citizens’ need to enjoy democracy. It is also a time to reflect on some of the problems that hinder its positive development. The success of social coexistence, which in recent years seems to be in a critical state, depends on finding a common goal capable of binding its members beyond individual needs.

We perceive the deterioration of our coexistence in the vulnerability of adolescents’ mental health, we notice it in an exhausted capitalist market, it is evident in the armed conflicts that perpetuate a world of factions, and it is manifested in a political process based on individual interests. But above all, we feel the weakness of our system when we see the lack of understanding between politicians and citizens and among citizens themselves.

For democracy to be effective, it is necessary for some actors to assume the sovereignty of the people to act as intermediaries between the citizens and the parliament, thus initiating the deliberation process required to reach agreements.

A Conversation Full of Noise

Political mediation has been obscured since tech companies burst into the public square and disrupted representative democracy. Along with the appropriation of user data and its sale to advertisers, they used their networks to distribute information created by others. But also to facilitate user participation in these conversations with the illusory promise of increasing consensus and satisfying everyone’s interests.

Our articles are accessible for free and without advertising. However, as Habermas suggests in his latest essay, “A New Structural Change in the Public Sphere and Deliberative Politics”, social media seem to offer a form of communication in which the public and private mix, giving rise to a fragmented and narcissistic public sphere that distorts the perception of the common good. The problem is that the current conversation resembles noise more than a peaceful exchange of ideas seeking to solve problems and reach agreements.

Social media has multiplied the flow of information and allowed citizens to be part of the public sphere more directly. However, social debate has not improved; rather, it has polarized and eliminated voices that do not align with the dominant culture.

To restore the media space of understanding, independent and economically sound media are necessary, capable of directing information flows and condensing public opinions. In an interview published in the book Recuperemos el periodismo [Let’s Reclaim Journalism] (2023), the president of a Spanish media group commented that he had to humbly accept that the first thing readers looked for in one of his newspapers was not the editorial but the horoscope. And then, the obituaries.

With this anecdote, he reinforced the idea of placing the reader at the center of the informational project, not the partisan or egocentric pretensions of the editors. In short, a healthy democracy depends on media capable of providing critical sense to the audience and conveying to politicians the issues that affect and concern citizens.

Solutions to Promote Democracy

With this aim, the European Commission has funded the Resilient Media for Democracy (ReMeD) project as part of its Horizon Europe research and innovation program. ReMeD is a consortium that comprises 30 researchers led by the School of Communication of the University of Navarra, who will spend the next years addressing the difficulties faced by citizens, journalists, and media companies both in accessing information and in practicing their profession.

Technology has always been a determinant in the media market. Sometimes it is seen as an enemy, and other times as an ally. One of the transformative aspects that ReMeD wants to focus on is how digital technology has influenced and distorted the relationships between communication professionals and citizens.

In contrast to traditional companies, alternative channels such as bloggers, YouTubers, or influencers have emerged, occupying an increasingly significant role in informing citizens. Through collaboration between academics, journalists, and citizens, the project seeks to identify solutions and communication channels that promote a democracy in which the media act as intermediaries between public authorities and the population.

This article was published before in Spanish in TheConversation Sept. 14, 2023