The political debates that we’ve seen in the past few years have been largely fact free particularly when discussing important issues like the economy, national security and foreign policy. These debates have resulted in political campaigns driven more through disinformation (or at best misinformation) and eventually affected elections and/or referendums-I will not point fingers here to keep us focused rather diverting to side issues. This also have effectively been used as a loophole by special interest lobbyist as well as foreign adversaries to affect the outcome of such important political pillars of our democracies.
On the conceptual level we need to redefine what Freedom of Speech & Freedom of Expression really are and protect against the abuse of such core principles. This is truly a fundamental question in western democracies and unless we take serious steps to provide pragmatic answers to this issue it is no exaggeration to suggest we are jeopardizing our own existence/identity as a civilized power in the world and main defender of Liberal democracy; there would a hefty price for us to pay if this scenario were to come true.
On a practical level, particularly when discussing political debates/campaigns we need to come up with some basic standards of practice/rules of the game to avoid deliberate abuse of the above principles. This abuse is not a new phenomenon but the level has certainly increased in the last couple of years whereby it’s become due to time for us to take corrective action-however significant-to effectively root out this problem. With the understanding that there is no silver bullet that would eliminate such abuse, there are certainly steps that we can come up with to help drive us towards this path. Among areas we need to address;
- Political Manifesto: What it means to set expectations/promises during political debates. These do have the power to alter election results and as such must be taken seriously and considered a manifesto pledges that need to be followed-in other words there must be a clearly articulated manifesto as basis of such campaigns-whether elections or referendums. Alterations in the manifesto must have consequences exactly in the same way that breaking a contract has consequences for the party that takes such an action. The alternative path of “No Action” simply means that democracy becomes a meaningless system well suited for deception/abuse which I suspect we can agree is not how it is intended to work and certainly not the reason why so many sacrificed their lives in defending such values on our behalf.
- Role for Independent Expertise: It would be prudent to allow independent experts to become a fundamental part of political debates so that they are able to help us distinguish facts from ideological positions & political jargon. This provides the public with on the spot factual evidence to support/refute a claim and as such would be better for our democracy in helping us make informed decisions.
- Role of the Media: The media also has a key role to play here when it comes to applying basic standards of analysis/verification of news stories & views aired. I do believe that it makes sense that an independent watchdog should be in charge of proactively keeping the media in check in abiding by these basic rules. Self regulation is great but considering where we’re coming from now in terms of constant disinformation/focus on sensationalism this would certainly not be the starting point I would suggest based on the confidence level we have in our media at this stage. The one man I heard repeatedly/accurately articulate the problem with the media is US satirist Jon Stewart as in this interview.
- Role of the Public: Our role in solving this riddle is no less significant. It’s quite simple to define but will take an effort for us to follow; we need to be more inclined to follow evidence/facts rather than be bounded by ideological/fact free jargon-and we need to raise our children with this virtue. Remember, we the Public set the tone for politicians and the media and it is the voice of the majority that has the power to change the entire political echo system-we just need to learn to lead NOT follow and find a way to reunite in this venture irrespective of political/ideological differences largely devised/serve politicians; remember that the divide and rule principle also applies to democracies. So let’s agree to differ on anything but NOT on facts/evidence driven reasoning/conclusions. Here is an encouraging sign.
There is no perfection when it comes to democratic governance but we should continue to improve the system and have it evolve with time through ongoing assessment/improvement.
Hope this helps.