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e-Democracy update - 17/5/06 - New Media unpopular, al Qaeda's Virtual Sanctuary, and mock UK elections

17 May, 2006
By Daniel Macpherson

New media unpopular with Australians

Australians have a low reliance on new media technologies in comparison to traditional news sources, according to a new report.

The report from The Australia Institute (TAI) shows only 3 per cent of Australians rely on new media technology as their main source of news and current affairs.

The report also shows only 25 per cent of Australians access the internet regularly for news and current affairs and 90 per cent of these people rely on a selection of sites with close ties to traditional media providers.

The report also criticises the federal government's claim that Australia is "at the dawn of the greatest era of pluralism in our history" due to new media.

Report co-author Christian Downie, says the notion that the new media will protect pluralism is nonsense.

"Over 95 per cent of Australians rely on television, radio and newspapers as their main source of domestic news and current affairs, compared to only three per cent in relation to the internet," Mr Downie says.

"Although there have been some innovative developments on the internet in recent times, the internet market is simply too small at present, and too concentrated, to be able to shield our democracy from the adverse affects of super-sized media conglomerates."

Mr Downie co-wrote the report with Institute Deputy Director Andrew Macintosh.

Read the report here.

Al Qaeda hides in "Virtual Sanctuary"

Terrorist group al Qaeda is using cyberspace as a "virtual sanctuary" to distribute propaganda, train attackers and gather intelligence on targets, according to a leading terrorism expert.

Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says Al Qaeda now considers the World Wide Web especially important after U.S.-led coalition forces deprived the terrorist network of its "physical sanctuary" in Afghanistan during late 2001.

He also says the group only had one website prior to the September 11, 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre.

"Today, the movement is present on more than 50 different sites," he says.

"[It provides a] virtual sanctuary - an effective, expeditious and anonymous means through which the movement can continue to communicate with its fighters, followers, sympathizers and supporters worldwide."

Mr Hoffman also says the US government must act now to wrest control of the Internet from the terrorist group through the use of a dedicated information control entity.

"Given the stakes of the current conflict, the time may be propitious to consider a similar uniquely dedicated and focused governmental body charged with coordinating all of our information operations - and that would include a mandate and resources specifically with regard to the Internet," Hoffman said.

Cato Institute Information Policy Studies director Jim Harper says he disagrees with Hoffman's recommendation on several levels.

"People see things happening online, and they attach responsibility to the Internet instead of the persons doing them," Mr Harper says.

"The Internet is just a window; it's just a medium… We could just as easily ask what we should do about the fact that al Qaeda is using paper to transmit pernicious ideas.

"I'm skeptical of the ability of an information agency, a propaganda agency, to do much.

"People are capable of figuring out truth from propaganda, so just about any campaign you put together is going to be recognized as propaganda and ignored.

"And then, it creates a suspicion of all information put out by U.S. organizations."

UK youth votes for Lib Dem in mock election

The Liberal Democrats have won a local mock election in the UK, gaining most of the votes of the young people who took part.

The Hansard Society's Y-Vote Mock Elections site provides registrations and resources for school students to simulate real elections in the UK.

The site also allows students to participate in fortnightly polls on political issues.

In a recent mock election of 100,000 pupils, 30 per cent of students voted for the Liberal Democrats, the third-largest political party in the UK.

The Labour party came second with 25 per cent of the votes while and another 25 per cent went to The Green Party.

Hansard Society Mock Elections Project Manager Michael Raftery says it is encouraging that over 100,000 young people registered for the Y-Vote Mock Elections

"Active involvement in elections helps young people to develop the confidence and understanding necessary for them to play a full part in both local and national political life," he says.

US Online Democracy Award calls for nominations

The US National Conference of State Legislatures seeks nominations for their 2006 Online Democracy Award.

The Online Democracy Award aims to recognise websites that make democracy user-friendly.

Eligible nominees include the websites of state legislatures, individual chambers and officially-recognized legislative caucuses.

This year's winner will be announced at the Legislative Staff Luncheon on Thursday, August 18 during the National Conference of State Legislatures' Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

Nominations for the 2006 award will be accepted until Friday, June 16, 2006.

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