Do We Know How to Use New Media Facilities for Developing Democracy and Do We Want to Do This?
In a short time, Estonia has become one of the countries, where the Internet is used on a daily basis by a rapidly increasing number of customers, comparable to that of mass media (see Table 1).
In the paper, the question is dealt with, of how to combine the technological facilities created by the extensive spread of the Internet with the development model of participatory democracy, which attributes great importance in exercising the power of state to the continuous dialogue between the elected representatives of the people and civil society.1
Realisation of the opportunities provided by the Internet depends on the availability of technical means, on the quality of providing information (exhaustiveness, promptness, level of analysis) and on the ability and desire of receivers to use the information, as well as the conditions, in which they do this. The most important condition, which ensures that the information provided on the Internet is effective, is the presence of the structures of civil society, including the willingness of the political parties and factions of the Riigikogu to act in the capacity of active mediators in the exchange of information.
Table 1. Computer and Internet Use among Estonians and Russo-phones in August-September 2000
Sources: Estonian Radio and Television Diary Survey, conducted by BMF Gallup Media, January to June, 2000; e-monitor, conducted by Emor Ltd., September-November, 2000
At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that NGO’s would become more active users of the information available about the work of the Riigikogu. The home page of the Riigikogu www.riigikogu.ee already provides access to the draft Acts, shorthand records of the sittings of the Riigikogu, and minutes of its committees, to social and juridical studies, giving contact data, etc. The bringing of one’s proposals and ideas to the knowledge of MP’s is possible only if one is informed of the draft Acts in the legislative proceedings of the Riigikogu, of the procedure of the work of the Riigikogu, and of the terms and deadlines which must be observed. It is also important to be informed about the activities of the members and factions of the Riigikogu, as this allows one to find an appropriate partner in the Riigikogu for defending one’s interests and expressing one’s ideas.
To ensure that the Internet culture would become part of the democratic political culture in Estonia, well-planned efforts should be made, aimed at making the Internet an open forum of dialogue between the Riigikogu and its constituents. No less important than the development of the ways of giving information, is educating the people in the framework of civil education, in the skills of using the Internet.
Difficulties hampering the development of participation democracy should not be sought in the lack of technical possibilities of the media; instead, the people and organisations must have the will and skills for making the best use of the existing possibilities for promoting democracy.
1The theses of this paper were presented at the Seminar “Communication between Parliament and Civil Society”, held on Nov. 1, 2000, in Tallinn: see www.riigikogu.ee/conferences, see also: A. Hardie.