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January 30, 2003

the public interest media groups

I agreed today to serve on the dissertation committee of a graduate student who wants to study the political strategy of the "progressive" public-interest groups that lobby for changes in federal communications policy. These groups (the so-called "geektivists") are concerned about the way the Internet is regulated, legal treatment of software monopolies, excessive intellectual property rights, and erosion of privacy. I know them well; I have often been the sole academic at Washington strategy meetings involving their issues. I encouraged the student's dissertation, because I am dissastisfied with the general approach of the progressive national groups—an approach that derives from Ralph Nader and the other consumer advocates of the early 1970s. They analyze complex issues to determine what is in the "public interest"; identify enemies; "expose" their crimes and misdemeanors; develop a simple, marketable "message" through public opinion research, and then "mobilize" popular support by making people angry. I find this approach ethically dubious, because it isn't sufficiently democratic (respectful of ordinary people's opinions and capacities) or deliberative (willing to recognize alternative points of view). By making people angry, it often discourages them or turns them away from politics. Above all, approach tends to fail when pitted against professional corporate lobbying campaigns. Thus I think that the proposed dissertation could be useful for activists well beyond the telecommunications field.

January 30, 2003 5:02 PM | category: Internet and public issues , revitalizing the left | Comments


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