The project was funded by McDougall Trust, an independent charitable trust.

 

LONDON: Dr Alan Renwick, Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, formed to aid policymakers consider Constitutional changes and reform, published his report regarding improving the public discourse during election and referendum campaigns.

Spurred by the controversies around the quality of political discourse, particularly pertaining to digital campaigning during the 2016 UK-EU Withdrawal Referendum and the 2016 US Presidential election, the report focuses on what it has identified as “the need for balanced and reliable information and on the dangers posed by the easy availability of seductive misinformation”. The report finds that voters are let down by existing practice in principally the UK, but with some analysis from Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

The report aspires to strengthen democracy by providing accurate, factual, inclusive and open-minded information to citizens. It examines how high-quality information can be disseminated and how misinformation can be countered by fact checking and not banning, with emphasis on how citizens have an important role to play in framing debate and discussion.Accessibility, relevance and balance are fundamental to the quality information that would lessen the likelihood of echo-chambers and provide a source of dynamic and reliably impartial information to enable the discerning voter to make informed decisions.

Renwick identifies the need for transparency and a mechanism that can provide a veracity check on information and its source. Transparency is considered important on three counts: the amount of money being spent on micro-targeting and ‘dark ads’ can promote misleading or divisive messages to different sections of society, disclosure about who has paid for the material and parties/campaigners reporting their online and social media spend.

Twenty pages are spent addressing the possible implications for free-speech, as far as UK is concerned “the fate of the Leveson inquiry into press culture and ethics highlights strong opposition among many influential actors in the UK towards anything that could be perceived as limiting free speech or the independence of the press.” However, insights from South Australia and New Zealand that do impose more restrictive arrangements are also remarked on.

Renwick and the co-author Michela Palesepropose an integrated model that would attempt to place the UK at the forefront of democratic renewal, through a new publicly funded ‘information hub’ that gathers multiple information types from diverse sources, vetted for quality and impartiality, enabling dynamic citizen-led discussion to take place during election and referendum campaigns.

The project was funded by the McDougall Trust, an independent charitable trust promoting public understanding of electoral democracy.

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