Editorial 23. September- October 2011
THE NEW COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES AT THE SERVICE OF CIVIL SOCIETY.
To go on thinking of the future of Cuba is “a duty and an agony”, as Martí used to say. Keeping such duty with hope, we wish to suggest the need to think how a society of information should be and how the use of media should be in a country like ours and what we can do in the present and in the future in order to build from now, this decisive sector in a democratic society in Cuba.
The new communication and information technologies have changed the world. They have consecrated globalization. They have turned freedom of expression capillary and social. They are the most powerful, immediate and efficient instrument to express the citizen sovereignty that every human person whose mind and education have arrived to the 21st century should exercise.
The use of computers, mobile phones and other portable instruments is called new information and communication technologies. These portable instruments are used by the citizens to work on their own in the internet, in blogs, magazines, newspapers, audiovisual presentations and digital TV transmissions. At the same time the citizens can catch a glimpse of the social networks such as facebook, twitter, youtube and other sites of interrelation that practically globalize human relations, solidarity, information from the base and the immediacy of what happens to the person, his family, his neighbourhood, his work or school, his church or his fraternal association, his group membership or his sports team.
TOWARD A HUMANIST ETHICS OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES.
From the ethical point of view, the sovereign, personal and social use of these tools within reach of the citizens is, just as every invention of humankind, ambivalent and it can be manipulated by each person according to his anthropologic understanding or his vision of the world. In short, it can be a great democratic power or it can turn itself into another social blight. It can contribute to the empowerment of persons and groups or to the moral disintegration when freedom is exercised without responsibility.
We believe that one measuring stick to evaluate the use of the new communication technologies is the respect to the full dignity of men and women. Everything that attacks, denigrates any human being should be considered ethically unacceptable and the internet users should reject it in a free and conscious way. An adult society made up of mature and well educated citizens can turn to personal conscience for the discernment of these means. Everything in human life has an ethical dimension, that is, a vision that safeguards the inviolable character of each person. Why not the new technologies?
This does not necessarily mean to forbid them. Prohibitions without personal discernment or evaluation can turn the censured thing into a morbid object of curiosity and transgression. Only the ethical and civic education can empower persons and groups with evaluation and discernment tools. This way, persons and groups acquire and exercise an autonomous ethics, that is, values which are freely and independently accepted as virtues to live and criteria to evaluate. Once more, the measuring stick depends on the personal and community dimension in order to safeguard the personal and common good.
AT THE SERVICE OF THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CIVIL SOCIETY FABRIC.
Civil society, in its very concept, is not only made up of the social fabric which is basted by the civic networks. The opening of independent spaces and the creation of public opinion are two indispensable columns of civil society structure. So it isn’t only about learning how to organize ourselves to create groups or social networks but also about learning how to open physical and intangible spaces for the creation of public opinion. Without these two pillars no civil society will ever exist or develop itself.
The new technologies have contributed and can continue contributing an undying and capillary dimension to the independent spaces and to the creation of opinions free from the censure of the big media or of the pre-civil or authoritarian states. A modern state is the one whose institutions are participatory and totally at the service of its citizens without exclusion.
That modern State should be a sustainable structure, open to the change and subsidiary, that is, a State that only takes on the things that the citizenship and the civic and political, economic or cultural groups cannot be responsible for by themselves. One of the main measures to evaluate the evolution and development of a modern State would be “how” this State puts the new technologies at the service of citizens and how the access to them is and also the “treatment” they are given in their legal framework and social appraisal.
We will mention only some decisive contributions of the new communication and information technologies to the development and strengthening of civil society:
1. They are an instrument of protection and safety for the citizens and for the independent groups because these persons and groups gain visibility and world solidarity. In the past they could be recognized and heard only when the big media such as the press, television and radio gave them some attention.
2. They significantly contribute to the interrelation of persons, groups and civic projects so that they can know each other, practice solidarity and cooperate among them when they have common purposes.
3. They are an easy, immediate, economic, testimonial channel of information from below, they are efficient and globalized and they can be consulted by millions of persons around the world.
4. They create public opinion in a participatory and citizen way and they have a power of call when they are used the right way.
5. They empower the citizens and independent groups of civil society and make each person a protagonist of his local history and a universal informer of those small local projects which can be connected to others and to the rest of the world.
6. They are a new tool to construct a capillary democracy and to the socialization of traditional Media because they are open and inclusive.
TOWARD A SOCIETY OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION IN AN INTERDEPENDENT WORLD.
There will be no democratic society or a State at the service of its citizens or civic empowerment or personal sovereignty if the new technologies are not put within reach of all or the majorities. UNESCO defines information society as “a society in which information is intensively used as an element of the economic, social, cultural and political life” (From the World Report on information of UNESCO, page 290).
THREE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE INFORMATION SOCIETY:
1. The use of information as an economic resource for the opening of markets, a greater efficiency and competitiveness, for the stimulation of innovation and improvement of the quality of goods and services.
2. The access to information by the great public should be quantitatively greater and qualitatively superior. The public should choose with criterion, it should know and exercise the information rights and the rights to freedom of expression together with the exercise of the civic responsibilities and for having access to education and culture.
3. The development of the infrastructures of one sector of information: telecommunication networks, education centers, consultancies, free and public centers of access, computers, modem, printer, scanner, information goods providing enterprises, etc.
THE FIVE TASKS IN THE INFORMATION SOCIETY:
The spinal column of information is developments and they should have an added value and should be a true contribution to the information society; for that, it is necessary that persons and groups involved in this sector fulfil some of these five tasks or all of them. We will call them ASOSS:
-Acquisition of information.
FIVE ETHICAL CRITERIA ON ONFORMATION:
The whole process and the internal dynamics of an information and communication society is summarized in the tension between these five dialectic pairs:
1. Between transparency and safety.
2. Between veracity and respect to dignity
3. Between freedom and responsibility.
4. Between denounce and proposal (proactive information)
5. Between justice and peace.
NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE LIMITS TO THE INFORMATION SOCIETY.
1. The excessive secrecy culture.
2. The obstacles to the access to information: there is an emergence of the division of societies: between the ones that have access to information and are capable to use it and the ones who don’t have access and/or are not qualified to use information.
3. Information and journalistic illiteracy.
4. The isolation of information. The roads to information are closed. Information is censured. The access to Internet is denied.
5. The manipulation of information. Only a part of the truth is said. The information is ideologically selected. Only the convenient aspects are emphasized and the non convenient ones are avoid.
6. The State monopoly over the official means of information and communication.
7. Due to the great amount of information there could be a handicap: not to have advice for the search, processing and application of such information.
8. The need for a global and free of charge service of information: personal and virtual information and advice. Lack of Information Consultancies.
However, there are positive limits to the information society too. Such limits are freely and consciously accepted as an expression of the very responsibilities of citizens:
. The right to privacy and image.
. The fair legal instruments for the use and the evaluation of Media by the citizens.
. The minimum and enough requirements for the request of information.
. The State secrets.
. The copyright.
. The right to rectification and reply.
. The right to criticism and previous censure in case information or Media harm the person or the society.
. In the electoral debates: the right to the same access to information and spreading in time, quality and range.
.The rights of prisoners, arrested personas and their relatives to information or to the protection of the Media.
.Requirements to publish announcements, decals, posters and other physical or digital propaganda in public places.
. The protection and evaluation of musical, plastic, stage works and others.
All these criteria, determining values, specific characteristics and tasks could serve as guides for any citizen who wants to exercise his social sovereignty to evaluate, criticize, propose and work in order to achieve that the country in which he lives would go toward an information and communication society in a true and solid way.
They are only tools for the discernment and participation of citizens as long as they are used with good will and the wish to serve persons and civil society.
Last, the new technologies don’t lead to the information and communication society in a sudden or automatic way. It’s an arduous, persevering and gradual task. And now we propose, only as a suggestion, a possible itinerary to go from a closed civil society to a more globalized one; from an excessive secrecy culture to informative transparency; from informative exclusion to the full participation and socialization of the Media and technologies:
1. To start from the power of the smallness (small networks of friends) to information self-management of citizens (information consultancies).
2. To continue along the sovereignty from below (interrelation of institutions and groups) up to the “information freeways”. (Al Gore, 1992).
3. Until reaching the global village starting from the people squares or new virtual Areopagusses, senates or parliaments.
All this must be thought and built in the framework of a global and holistic process which will travel from the information society to the knowledge society and from them both to solidarity society and Holistic Human Development. (HHD)
All who have access to this editorial and live in Cuba will be able to form their own criteria, to use these tools to evaluate our technological, civic and information illiteracy in this field. I wish we also realize that there is an urgent need for an ethical and technological education in order to live and make a sound and linked civil society capable of taking on the challenges of the changes that approach in Cuba and play a leading role in them.
Pinar del Río, September 8th 2011