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Manufacturing “e-Consent”

With the proliferation of the Internet, some believed that it would be a major step towards citizen’s right to information and freedom of expression – both important aspects of democracy. The advent of Web 2.0 further reinforced this belief as citizens were more empowered for information creation and broadcasting. However, a number of authoritarian governments have been keeping up with the changing times to curb the power that Internet promises to citizens. It is perhaps no surprise that governments of a number of developing countries would fall into this category. But who would think that a developed country such as Japan is also part of this ‘control game’?

In the last year or so, the Japanese government has been active in trying to pass legislation that would give the government more control over regulating Internet content. A 2007 report sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication discusses the possibility of bringing the Internet under the periphery of existing Broadcast Law with the justification that the Internet is a tool for “broadcasting information”. More recently, a high-level government panel is discussing the possibility of making the ISPs directly accountable to the government for any “illegal and harmful content” in a move to influence the online news websites.

However, despite the government’s “ominous” moves to control web content, there has been relatively little hue and cry over this issue inside Japan. According to some observers, the web community in Japan is largely unaware of this. There are very few bloggers who seem to be writing about this – although the reasons are unclear but many speculate that they may be still largely be in disbelief. The Japanese political structure perhaps explains – at least partly – why there is little dissension about this issue.

Many argue that the Japanese political system is hardly a true democracy with LDP solely dominating the government for decades and opposition parties playing a minimal role in the Parliament. The lack of healthy democratic political debates at the top-level and the government’s long-held influence over mainstream media has possibly contributed to a situation where the general public themselves are also not engaged enough in policy debates since they often do not have access to adequate information to be engaging in constructive debates – a classic case of Noam Chomsky’s famous tag: ‘Manufacturing Consent’.

The Japanese government is preparing for the new e-world with strategies for ‘Manufacturing e-Consent’ – if the public at large do not have a response strategy to this, we will perhaps need the resurgence of new-generation Noam Chomiskys to analyze and fight against a phenomenon that we see growing in many countries.

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