Democracy has been caught up in a whirlwind of global action in recent times. It has sprung up, been shot down, been cried out for and has emerged in a great variety of countries and political systems around the world. We have seen democracy “Springing forth” across the Arab world, establish itself in Libya and still witness it trying to push through the tough crust of repression in Syria. Although the infant country is going through growing pains, we have seen democracy lead to the creation of the world’s newest country: South Sudan. Democracy is gathering pace and bringing hope to populations in Myanmar. But for all its progress and successes, democracy is seeing many challenges.
Since the early days of radio and TV , mass media have been recognized by politicians and leaders of all types for the power they represent. Through their ability to control the distribution of information in society, media have become powerful political actors in and of themselves. But a grassroots challenge has arisen in the form of the individual’s ability to reach a mass audience. As was seen in the Arab Spring, the internet, Facebook and Twitter were instrumental to coordinating organized and widespread uprising. This raises many interesting questions about the traditional mass media and these newcomers to the arena challenging and shaping democracy.
The financial world is another force breathing down democracy’s neck. 2011 saw two democratically elected leaders, Greece’s George Papandreou and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, leave their position to be replaced in office by unelected technocrats deemed more capable of initiating the economic reforms that the wider European community and its economic apparatus considered necessary. Although the economics of the issue is an entirely different debate, the demands of financial markets trumping the values of democracy have led some to point to the beginning of Europe’s “post-democratic era”. The panel discussion will raise many of these complex and interesting issues, asking, ‘What powers do financial markets and big business have over national politics and what tools can financial markets use to affect politics and how should these powers be controlled’?