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Tag Archives: agenda setting

A revealing sentence appears almost casually towards the end of an article in today’s Irish Times. The article is, “Re-emergence of FF is not inevitable” by Noel Whelan [i]. The sentence is, “This poll [ii] shows that more than two-thirds of the electorate favour targeting child benefit at those who need it most.” This is true but it lacks democratic validity unless we know the alternatives that were rejected in favour of the proposition.

The poll asked the question about payment of child benefit in the context of reducing public expenditure. The question has merit in that it invited citizens to think about priorities. The problem is that it limited priorities to the question of how we might reduce spending on child benefit and thereby excluded consideration of all other priorities.

I’ve argued that the least important area of public spending is pay and pensions above 100k and 50k p.a. respectively and that – being the least important – it should stop first, i.e. a ceiling should be introduced before consideration of cutting more important spending.

My views may be unacceptable but it seems I’ll never know because I’ve failed to get the matter onto the public agenda. Mine is a legitimate point and it comes with an argument [iii] but it is effectively censored until a public opinion poll asks citizens to identify the least important element in public spending and includes in the list of options the money paid out in excess of the 100k and 50k limits.

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There’s a lot of talk these days about media diversity. (On Monday last I was at a useful conference on the subject hosted by Nessa Childers, MEP.)  A problem is that “media diversity”, like so many terms, is increasingly becoming drained of meaning. Indeed, on media training courses it can mean as little as knowing the full range of available media.

There are, however, two dominant meanings:  i) Diversity of ownership and ii) diversity of voices.  Their dominance means that a central issue for political communication is generally ignored. You see, there could be – generally there are – masses of material coming from all sorts of different people and they could all be saying the same thing or broadly similar things. Net optimists and activists can get very cross at the mention of a long dead philosopher but we really are back to J.S. Mill and the oppressive danger of the herd and its consensus. Even the apparent dissent is now a matter of consensus!

The problem for the citizen who wishes to take part in public discourse remains unchanged since the 19th century: how to have easy access to the complete debate. There is a democratic gulf between “access” and “easy access”.  To argue that the rich pickings of today’s diverse media offer all that any citizen could possibly need misunderstands both democracy and the real busy lives of engaged citizens. No, hours of on-line searching or trawling obscure channels and journals is not mass participation. Citizens need a thorough agenda and thorough debates brought to their attention, and when they are get a poor service, they need a mechanism to complain and put things right.