On Forbes.com, author Adam Thierer asks: Do citizens have access to the right information - or know how to take action based on it - to make informed decisions about their communities and society?
His query hits at the core of the Knight Commission’s report on community information needs, which Thierer calls a “constructive blueprint” in the discussion on the topic.
In exploring for the reader the complex dynamics at play, he writes that the role government can and should have is rather controversial.
For example, he cites many who want public officials to take a more active role in improving the flow of information in communities. He cites the FCC’s report on information needs of communities which says that “Government is not the main player in this drama, and the First Amendment circumscribes government action to improve local news.”
Thierer himself is “skeptical of direct government intervention in this arena, especially because of the profound First Amendment dangers associate with government meddling with the provision of news, opinion and speech.”
He does however support digital and media advocacy and writes that “without such skills citizens will not be able to properly assess and act upon all the information being put at their disposal.”
Thierer also touches on the role that information plays when it comes to ensuring citizens’ ability to take part in their communities and engage civically. “No one can know with any degree of certainty what ‘the information needs of citizens and communities’ are,” Thierer writes. “Nor can we scientifically determine how much civic engagement and community interaction are needed to ensure deliberative democracy thrives.”
The article concludes:
“Citizens and democracy benefit when we increase the flow of information and ensure citizens are more fully informed about the world around them — especially their local communities. How we accomplish that will remain contentious at times, but the Knight Foundation and Aspen Institute reports offer us a constructive blueprint for studying and debating these issues going forward.”
Thierer also cites other good reports on this issue including "Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication," "Assessing Local Information Needs: A Practical Guide" and "Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action."