INTERNET & POLITICS - The Modernization of Democracy Through the Electronic Media
International Conference, 19. - 21. February 1997
The Munich Statement

 In the frame of the international conference "Internet & Politics" a group of scientists and politicians summarized from their point of view the most important points to support the democratic and sustainable devolopment of the future knowledge and information society.

The Munich Statement considers itself to be a contribution to a democratic media debate and network-culture in both form and content. It is addressed to politicians, administration, economics, culture and citizens.

Preamble: Civilizing Cyberspace, Modernizing Democracy

The social utilization of networked media by all citizens must be the central concern of a democratic information society.

The new communication and information technologies are rightly considered to be important branches of the future which can strengthen Europe's attractiveness as a location for free enterprise. They open new horizons in terms of living standards, environmental protection, employment and communication. Fascinating new possibilities for education, culture and science are unfolding. But the prerequisite for effective realization of the opportunities at hand lies within the necessity of facilitating a democratic media debate and in allowing citizens to develop confident know-how with regard to new media technology, which is at this point in time in general language use largely synonymous with the "Internet". The success of the information society is decisively dependent on a preparedness not only to accept the changes to come, but to actively determine their shape and direction.

Therefore all citizens must have the chance to make active use of the new media in order to participate in the democratic process of the deliberation and resolution of public issues. Up until now they have been primarily utilized commercially and scientifically; their design is still too strongly oriented to the pattern of classical distribution media (Pay-per-view or teleshopping). What should be achieved is their structuring and protection as a universal public service with which the quality of democratic processes can be improved. A politics of technology, education and media in alignment with such a goal must set its sights more clearly on decentralized and interactive nets.

Of course, the new communication media bear great risks: Gains in individual freedoms could lead to excesses of irresponsible individualism. But at the same time they offer highly diverse possibilities for democratic involvement and deliberation. Most importantly, for the first time in human history they allow "individualized mass communication" to take place. New forms of democratic dialog between citizens as well as between citizens and political institutions can evolve. A preliminary evaluation of developments reveals that networked media can intensify and deepen local political exchange while allowing communication to proceed on a global scale. The new communication media can be utilized as a means to remedy political apathy and resignation, that is, to regenerate democratic processes and significantly contribute to the self-organization of the social network.

Certain preconditions must be met in order to attain these goals. Our polity has elected the democratic social state of public law as its framework for interaction. New options coming about in a society so firmly oriented towards acquisition of knowledge must be realized within this framework. When related to the particular characteristics of networked media this entails that the basic right to inform and to be informed must be newly formulated, just as education and the relationship between personal desire and the need for solidarity must be re-conceived. Our culture's democratic achievements such as the reinforcement of personal liberties, freedom of speech, dialog and the majority vote with simultaneous protection of minorities must provide the guidelines for the political and social use of the new communication media.

The new media open doors for an 'electronicized populism', but at the same time they offer opportunities for a modernization of democracy and for determining the role of government in a new light. The complex structures of a world-wide community can articulate themselves by means of global communication that allows individuals and collectives to more adequately respond to and effectively influence moments within the globalization of enterprise and politics.

The following demands and suggestions appeal to political decision makers, to legislators and public administrations, to the political parties and those mediating political communication, to technology developers and to the entrepreneur of media, to scientists, artists, schools and other educational institutions - and, last but not least, to the users of the new communication media. What we demand and suggest is not of small expense - it requires extensive investment of public and private means. But we consider this to be a sensible investment that will render long-term pay-off politically, socially and economically.

Democratic telecommunication policy

1. The national and regional ministers of science and public education are called upon to elevate learning and education for and by means of the new communication media to the level of a national priority and to more strongly embrace European initiatives pointing in this direction. The education system must become capable of preparing young people for the challenges of the information society and must instill the capability in them to utilize the new communication media in sensible ways. It must furthermore provide facilities for re-education and further education for employed and unemployed persons, who are marginalized due to the process of technological modernization.

2. The national and regional ministers of science and public education are called upon to advance the adequate equipping of public schools, adult education schools, universities and other educational institutions with computers and complete access to the Internet on a permanent and continuous basis, and free of charges.

3. A universal service adequate to contemporary needs requires that educational institutions, town-halls and community meeting places, communal networks and self-help groups be equipped as public terminals allowing citizens who are not in possession of the necessary technical equipment to acquire free and inexpensive access to the new communication media.

4. As has been called for by the European Commission and already exercised in the United States NetDay pilot projects should be launched that familiarize all levels of society with the potentials of the new communication media. Socially weakened groups and minorities are to be particularly supported in these projects.

5. Public and private libraries should be digitized and networked to a far greater extent. Audiovisual media, individual archives and public databases should grow together step by step to become a global electronic library independent of geographical location. The national German Library, the Deutsche Bibliothek, should be equipped as an electronic depot and archive. The service function provided by universities for information searches in the world-wide network should be expanded.

6. The new communication media should be utilized as a means of safeguarding the national and European cultural heritage and to make it accessible for all. The goal is to establish an electronic museum independent of geographical location that utilizes the heightened storage and archiving capacity of the new communication media and provides for a continuity of information.

7. The sciences and institutions of political education are called upon to utilize the new communication media to render the processes and results of scientific research accessible to all interested persons at little expense. At the same time they must foster processes of reflection in order to make the information society 'more intelligent' and to create sensible structures of order within it.

Citizen oriented politics

1. National, regional as well as community parliaments are called upon to actively tie themselves into the new media in order to more readily open dialog with citizens, social movements and interest groups, who rightfully demand for citizen oriented politics.

2. The political parties are called upon to improve interaction with their members and with non-members by making use of the new media and to assist in defining the new media as an instrument of democracy both within and without affiliation to a particular party.

3. Private organizations (non-governmental organizations, public interest groups) representing philanthropic, humanitarian and special interests are called upon to enter into an interactive democratic dialogue about the new communication media and to responsibly utilize their potential.

4. Local, regional and multi-regional networks should be created and supported that include citizen's initiatives, self-help groups, neighborhood cooperatives and forums for community discussion.

Self-help organization and self-regulation of new media users

1. Users of the new communication media must make their contribution towards laying sanctions on heavy violations of the rules of mutual respect, tolerance and human integrity and to further the self-regulation of electronic interaction ('netiquette') and to make it an established right of the of the electronic era.

2. Network users should get actively involved in the discussion about telecommunication legislation and should advocate the public interest for basic information supply and universal services.

3. Professional unions of computer experts should actively increase their efforts to keep the new communication media civilized and democratic and to generally nurture the democratic network-culture beyond their own professional interests.

4. The internet-communities should develop pilot projects for the structuring of political communication on local, national, European and global levels. In the beginning these projects are to be supported by public funding.

The following persons released this statement:

Thomas Christaller, Artificial Intelligence, Fraunhofer Institute for Autonomous Intelligent Systems (AIS), St. Augustin

Maximilian Herberger, Computer Science Lawyer, University of Saarbrücken

Johannes Kollbeck, Member of the Scientific Staff in the German Parliament, Berlin

Claus Leggewie, Political Science, University of Gießen

Geert Lovink, Theory of Media and Political Science, Amsterdam

Christa Maar, President of the Academy of the Third Millennium

Peter Mambrey, Sociology, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology, St. Augustin

Heinz Mandl, Psychology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Günther Müller, Computer Science, Institute for Computer Science and Society, University of Freiburg

Sebastian Stier, Physics and Computer Science, Siemens AG, München

Jörg Tauss, Member of the German Parliament, Berlin

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