More media power-to, less power-over vanities

A day at the excellent POLIS conference about Media and Power, and participation in a panel on DIY Media Democracy, led me to think about two sorts of power in democracy, politics and community action.
One is power-over: who can make decisions or has influence – and the other is power-to. That’s the ability to understand and take action – where terms like capacity building and empowerment crop up. Communication and media is important in both.
Today’s event was about both sorts of power: citizen media power in the Midde East revolutions, campaigners using digital media, local blog sites challenging councils (Pits ‘n Pots), as well as the more traditional issues of journalists holding politicians to account, and politicians using journalists to further their aims. (According to former Labour spinner Lance Price No 10 could pretty much dictate the headlines to sympathetic journalists in the early happy days of Blair government.)
As someone said, it’s less a matter or a vibrant press and more one of a vibrant and rather vain game between politicians and journalists.
Although on reflection, the conference was perhaps mostly about power over …  more about the Citizens UK and Lord Glasman view of change, than the more collaborative community development approach of Locality, as highlighted here.
I wanted to advance the idea of social media as a means to support knowledge sharing and collaboration, in a complex ecosystem of information. I liked the line from Robert Phillips of Edelman that communications for an informed society has to be about advancing shared interests among multiple stakeholders
Julia Hobsbawn of Editorial Intelligence talked about over-communication and over-sharing, and needing navigators through the jungle.
My line for the panel discussion was the journalists like to say that they speak truth to power – but if we are living in a society where Government would like to see power devolved, citizens taking responsibility, and more co-design of services, we need just as much help in talking to each other.
I see social reporters helping in that role – but is it one for journalists? Not generally from what I heard today, at least in discussions about power. They may go so far as standing on the side of listeners and viewers and asking the questions they think need to be asked, or joining online discussions after writing an article – but in tha role they are intermediaries rather than facilitators.
That is, of course, an enormously important role: but it’s not enough when we are seeing changes in the part citizens are expected to play in their communities.
I should add here that I believe our host for the conference, POLIS director Charlie Beckett, takes a wider view in his work on Networked Journalism. That’s maybe why I got an invite after he read my pieces about the Big Lottery grant to the Media Trust.
I’ve been arguing that the Media Trust model of news hubs in which professionals support citizen journalists may not be what we need to support the way the community organising and development is going.
Today confirmed my feeling that journalism, even when digitally-enhanced, doesn’t generally promote the values and attitudes we need for big society, our society or good society. We need a bit more media power-to, and a little less tussling among the political and media classes about who has power-over.
But that’s another conference.