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Government, Media, and Power in the Age of the Internet


Politics, Power and the Media. Giovanni Navarria - Government & Power - 27 ... (the governmental news agency), and (the online version of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Government, Media, and Power in the Age of the Internet

Government, Media, and Power in the Age of the
  • Giovanni Navarria
  • 27/02/2006
  • Centre for the Study of Democracy  MA
    International Relations and Political
    Theory Politics, Power and the Media

Todays Lecture
  • aims at making clear to all of you
  • What is Power (according to Max Weber and Michel
  • What is e-government
  • How governments use the Internet.

  • the technological revolution of the last decade
    has radically transformed the concepts and matrix
    of government and governance worldwide. The
    meaning of this radical transformation is
    encapsulated in a new but already very popular,
    hyphenated word e-government. That hyphen itself
    can be seen in one of two ways positively, as
    the symbolic link between the past and the future
    of complex democratic institutions or
    negatively, as the virtual mark of the invisible
    "long hand" of governmental power.

E-government as element of power
  • It can be understood from 2 different
  • As a new form of Governmentality attempting to
    create a favourable environment where behind the
    benevolent façade of the perfect service
    provider, it is hiding a subtle system of
  • As a quintessential Big Brother of the internet
    age, where technology serves as a strong
    amplifier of pre-existing patterns of domination
    it gives the State extra power to see everything
    and control everybody

What is Power? (1)
  • Power belongs to the category of concepts that
    are by their nature evaluative and essentially
  • Max Weber (April 21, 1864 June 14, 1920)
  • Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926 June 26,

Max Weber
Max Weber Power
  • Max Weber defines power (Match) as the
    probability that an actor within a social
    relationship will be in a position to carry out
    his own will despite resistance, regardless of
    the basis on which this probability rests (1947

Weber Bureaucracy
  • For Weber domination in modern states is
    bureaucratic. That is to say - using the words of
    Hannah Arendt that domination rests upon the
    fact of being the rule of an intricate system of
    bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the
    best, neither the few nor the many, can be held
    responsible, and which could be properly called
    rule by Nobody (Arendt, 1969 38 emphasis

Michel Foucault
Foucault Two forms of Power
  • Disciplinary power is the trademark of modern
    societies, since the early nineteenth century,
    and it concerns particular individuals or
    collections of individuals. (Clegg, 1989155).
  • Bio-power, instead, refers to the exercise of
    power over individuals taken as part of the
    broader circle of population, and it can be
    thought as a politics in which issues of
    individual sexual and reproductive conduct
    interconnect with issues of national policy and
    power. (Gordon, 1991 5).

Foucault Strategies of power
  • Foucault identifies the strategies of power with
    the networks, the mechanism, all those
    techniques by which a decision could not but be
    taken in the way it was.
  • Within the context of disciplinary power,
    disciplinary technologies are meant to help
    disciplining individuals. In fact, disciplinary
    power aims at producing an army of docile people
    whose role is to strengthen the social system and
    to help it running as smooth as possible.
    (Foucault, 1980).

Jeremy Benthams Panopticon pan optikos,
literally all-seeing
Foucault - Panopticon
  • Full lighting comments Foucault in Discipline
    and Punish and the eye of a supervisor capture
    better than darkness, which ultimately
    protected. (1995200) Within the Panopticon
    Visibility becomes a trap.

Foucault - Governmentality
  • Foucault uses the term governmentality to
    indicate the complex tactics, procedures and
    apparatuses that attempt to control and influence
    the conduct of individuals by using truth,
    knowledge, and political economy, rather than
    violence in other words, the art of governing by
    fostering willing compliance in subjects, rather
    than achieving legitimacy through the help of
    brute force.

What is e-government (1)
  • Technically speaking, "e-government" or
    "electronic government" is the use of information
    technology's unique characteristics in matters
    of governance to enhance and provide a better,
    more sophisticated, fast and smooth, service
    delivery to citizens and businesses.

E-Government stages 1-4
  • basic electronic commitment rudimentary
    governmental websites with essential information
    and documents (description of its work, its
    duties and the services it offers)
  • increased online presence more dynamic and
    functional websites with regularly updated news,
    contacts (few) and inter-agency weblinks easily
    available forms and official documents or
    legislations can be downloaded and printed
  • interactive government the agencies' websites
    boost their interaction with citizens providing
    extensive email contact list, tailored news
    feeds, specialised and customisable search
    engines and databases forms and requests can be
    submitted online
  • transactional government the website is a single
    entry portal, which functions as gateway to each
    and every government agency website front and
    back office are fully linked, the intranet is the
    indispensable backbone for the government staff's
    daily working routine (yet, during this stage,
    agencies are not interoperational)

E-Government stages 5
  • A virtual seamless government as the ultimate
    aim all government's agencies and services,
    information, and transactions are available
    online and channelled through a single
    entry-point portal. At anytime and from anywhere
    in the network, citizens can log on and initiate
    a process of full interaction with the government
    as a whole. In this fifth stage, the government
    and its entire complex structure is "virtually"
    one click away. Through its new virtual gate, the
    intricate, hidden and often incomprehensible
    chaotic net that for citizens once stood for
    governmental bureaucracy, becomes order, and a
    synonym of accessibility.

Two examples
  • Australia
  • USA

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E-Government overall
  • Overall, information technology applied to
    governments' business improves officialdom by
    making the system faster and by diminishing
    significantly its inherited, embedded flaws.
    Nuisances such as slowness and bad quality of
    service, chaos and inefficiency, with which
    bureaucracy is often identified at least from a
    user's perspective are reduced to a minimum or
    completely overcome.

Weber Secrecy
  • Every bureaucracy remarked Weber seeks to
    increase the superiority of the professionally
    informed by keeping their knowledge and intention
    secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends
    to be an administration of secret sessions in so
    far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action
    from criticism. (Weber, 1991 233)

E-government key goal
  • In the United States president's management
    agenda of July 2001, the aim of the US's
    e-government project is "to make better use of
    information technology … eliminate billions of
    dollars of wasteful federal spending, reduce
    government's paperwork burden on citizens and
    businesses, and improve government response time
    to citizens from weeks down to minutes. A key
    goal is for citizens to be able to access
    government services and information within three
    'clicks' when using the Internet."

Digital Governmentality? (1)
  • While being offered unprecedented opportunities
    to choose from a wide array of impressive and new
    efficient digital government' services, citizens
    are becoming "governmentalised".
  • Citizens are learning to comply with the requests
    and the soft-diktats of the new environment, and
    in the name of protection or in search of a
    better quality of life giving up their right to
    privacy by allowing government to collect and
    retain data about every aspect of their lives.

Digital Governmentality? (2)
  • At any moment, a government can ask any citizen
    who are you? Where are you? What are you doing?
    Even more dangerously, it can already know the
    answers to those questions regardless of the
    citizen's readiness to share this information. In
    fact, citizens are too often unaware of the
    power-relations in which they have become
    enmeshed they are complying subjects of a power
    that is indeed "at its most effective when is
    least observable"(Steven Lukes)

Digital Big Brother
  • Since the beginning, Cyberspace has often been
    equated to Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon , or to a
    new, digital version of George Orwell's Big
    Brother , capable of seeing and controlling
    everything and everyone.

The Case of China (1)
  • With more than 100 million users China has
    already become a dominant presence in the
    internet world, second only to the United States
    of America
  • Aim the complete renewal of the economy and
  • The web has become an important medium for
    propaganda and censorship

The Case of China (2)
  • Websites such as (the
    governmental news agency), and
    cn (the online version of China Daily ), which
    serve millions of users every day, are perfect
    examples of how the Chinese authorities use the
    net for propaganda purposes the content of these
    websites is entirely controlled by the Communist

The Golden Shield
  • China has been developing a complex system of
    electronic surveillance called the Golden Shield
    . The system is intended to be a state-of-the-art
    online database combined with a unique and
    complex surveillance network that incorporates
    the whole realm of digital technology, from
    speech and face recognition, to credit card
    records, CCTV, as well as advanced internet
    filtering technologies .
  • the government can already count on an estimated
    force of 40,000 agents allocated to its notorious
    internet police which has the task to patrol and
    polish the web, day and night.

Shi Tao Case
  • With the compliance of Yahoo! Holdings, Shi Tao,
    a journalist of the daily Dangdai Shang Bao
    (Contemporary Trade News) in Hong Kong, was
    sentenced to ten years in prison when he was
    found guilty of spreading censored material
    through the internet. The alleged top-secret
    material was a message from the Beijing
    government warning journalists of the risks
    resulting from the return of certain dissidents
    on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square
    massacre. In other words it was a request for
    every journalist to keep a low-key tone if not
    remaining totally silent on the topic of
    Tiananmen. In order to spread the top-secret
    material, Shi Tao sent a message to a
    foreign-based website through his personal
    supposedly anonymous yahoo email account. Yahoo
    provided the Chinese prosecutors with the account
    details of the email address ( responsible for sending the forbidden
    information to the foreign website, and the IP
    addresses linked to both that email account and
    Shi Tao's computer. Without such supportive
    compliance by Yahoo!, it would have been
    impossible for the Chinese government to convict
    Shi Tao.

Who controls the controllers?'
  • The Italian political philosopher Norberto Bobbio
    , in his classical study The Future of Democracy,
    addresses the risks hidden beneath the surface of
    what he called a "computerocracy". "(The) ideal
    of the powerful has always been to see every
    gesture and to listen to every word of their
    subjects (if possible without being seen or
    heard)", Bobbio wrote but nowadays, in the
    information age, the ideal is realised. Bobbio
    went on to argue that the old question running
    through the history of political thought ('who
    guards the guards?') can now be reformulated
    ('who controls the controllers?'). "(If) no
    adequate answer can be found to this question,
    democracy in the sense of visible government is

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Percentage of population who used Government
Online services in 2003