‘People need agency and voice in a crisis. This is a time when, more than ever, governments need to be open and transparent, responsive and accountable to the people they are seeking to protect ….’ – Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, António Guterres
As large gatherings of people are prohibited under the measures introduced to prevent the spread of Covid-19, for many the established means of debate and protest have been constrained. At the same time, decision-making processes are increasingly opaque. For those historically marginalised, civic engagement is becoming even more difficult. The pandemic is creating new difficulties for democracies while exposing chronic, long-term challenges.
While Covid-19 has fuelled demands for 24-hour coverage and demonstrated the need for experts and reliable content, the media industry is likewise struggling. The loss of vital advertising revenue is placing unsustainable economic pressure on already-stretched traditional news outlets. Control of information and censorship is threatening the freedom of the press in some regions. The pandemic has also been accompanied by a fake news ‘infodemic’, spread primarily through social media platforms and promoted by a few prominent leaders.
With normal civic life disrupted and journalism facing a potential crisis, this final instalment in the five-part workshop series will ask if democracy can function without the public sphere.
Bill Emmott is a writer and consultant best known for his 13 years as editor-in-chief of The Economist. He is the author of 14 books variously on Japan, Asia, the twentieth century and Italy, and narrated and co-writer of a documentary film about Italy, Girlfriend in a Coma. He is currently chair of the Trinity Long Room Hub board.
Melody Barnes is Co-Director for Policy and Public affairs for the Democracy Initiative and Dorothy Danforth Compton Professor at the University of Virginia. She was Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama, Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and Chief Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Fintan O’Toole is an Irish Times columnist and writer. He was the winner of the 2017 European Press Prize and Orwell Prize. His most recent works include Heroic Failure: Brexit and Politics of Pain (2018) and The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism (2019).
Crises of Democracy Curriculum
About the series
This is a special five-part series organised by the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in partnership with the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University in response to the Covid-19 crisis.