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Information, development and democracy

By Dionisio Da Cruz Pereira - posted Thursday, 17 September 2009

As the world approached the beginning of the 21st century, there were significant changes happening around the world. The end of the cold war; the collapse of the Berlin wall and the triumph of capitalism heralded the beginning of the new century under the banner of trade liberalisation.

While some people celebrated the end of the century with caution, some reacted to it more positively. Francis Fukuyama convincingly argues in his book, The end of history and the last man, that the end of the Cold War meant the battle for ideology was finally over and the western liberal democracy would be widely embraced by many people around the world.

Within the liberal concept of democracy it assumes that each individual freedom is respected and valued. The freedom to exercise individual rights through a vote and to participate in the decision making process is vital to democratic societies.


In spite of the proclamation, the concept is widely contested among policy makers both in developed and developing countries. Some argue that western liberal democracy is incompatible with eastern values; therefore, the idea must be rejected.

The rationale for rejecting such an idea is based on President Lee Kuan Yew’s thesis - the former Singaporean President who strongly defended the concept of Asian values where the interests of the general public take precedent over individuals’ rights. This is despite the fact that such a theory has been rejected by prominent authors such as Amartya Sen in his book Development as Freedom: he claims that there is no strong evidence which suggest that individual freedom is a threat to economic development.

One common feature of the 21st century is the increased interconnectedness among people around the world through trade, foreign investment, capital flows and the spread of technology facilitated by the rapid improvements and developments of the telecommunications system.

In the age of globalisation, space and time are no longer an issue. Improvements in transportation makes distances between countries a thing of the past. Furthermore, modern telecommunications, such as the internet, telephone, radio and television, make the world a global village. People are more connected than ever before.

Even though these new inventions are seen as a major breakthrough, discussions surrounding the benefits brought by modern communications are always widely debated. It is argued that improvements in telecommunications helps terrorist groups to strengthen their network capabilities and to launch deadly attacks on sovereign states, such as the September 11 attack at the United States in 2001, the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the July 7, 2005 London bombings and others.

Counter terrorism experts argue that the remote control helps terrorists to carry out attacks in an effective manner. For instance, today, most terrorist groups tend to use remote controls as a means to detonate their explosives. The results are very destructive as they can generate enormous casualties and extensive damage (see the International Institute for Counter Terrorism 2007). The ability of terrorists to generate and move finances, acquire weapons, recruit and train cadres, and communicate, particularly via the Internet, are central to their successful missions.


Similarly, improvements in telecommunications could also encourage transnational crimes such as human trafficking, drug and arms trafficking and money laundering. By making telecommunications devices widely available, terrorist groups can easily use them to their advantage.

Though such concerns may be justified, telecommunications are seen as indispensible when it comes to advancing human freedoms. Media encourages public participation in the decision making process; it raises public awareness and prompts global action; it conveys knowledge and science to society hence enhancing human capabilities to actively participate in the development process.

One of the key features of democracy is the ability of each individual to gain free access to information. Writing in the Social Research Journal Berman and Witzner (1997), for example, argue that the free access and exchange of information is indispensable to the notion of democracy. Another writer, Patrick O’Neil (1998), in his essay on Post-Communism and the media in Eastern Europe similarly argues that without the freedom of communication that mass media provides the foundation of democratic rule is undermined.

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About the Author

Dionisio Da Cruz Pereira is pursuing an M.Sc in International Development at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.

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