Altering the political landscape: The impact of electronic media on Armenia's transition to democracy
The free flow of information is a major factor that may contribute to the spread of democracy throughout the world. Knowledge that could be broadcast in the form of cell phone videos online forced the repressive Burmese regime to reconnect the country to the Internet, Burma's link to the outside world. It was the flow of information that instigated a society engaged and actively demanding change. As Anthony Giddens has noted, access to information gives rise to "deepening democracy" in a globalized world with access to more information. Although information is a fundamental element of democracy, if it is to have currency it must be accessible to all. For example, in North Korea a vacuum of information continues to keep citizens in isolation from the rest of the world. Similarly, in Egypt, bloggers face threats of censorship and torture if they report on government wrongdoing or otherwise raise a critical voice. Both countries have been named to Reporters Without Borders' list of the world's 13 Internet enemies. The prospects for democracy may be enhanced in the new digital environment. The impact of the Internet on the media landscape has been staggering: Television programs are broadcast online, podcasts provide content on-the-go, blogging makes anyone with access to the Internet an advocate or journalist. Participation is enhanced because accessibility and control have shifted to the news consumer. Electronic media is far more accessible to the public today than it was in the past especially in developing and semi-developing countries. Televisions are ubiquitous even in rural communities. Mobile phones are just as likely to appear in the poorest villages as they are in the wealthiest neighborhoods, as are Internet cafes and satellite dishes. These developments raise the question of how the growing availability of information affects the political landscape. To answer this question, this thesis examines the case of Armenia. By examining a single representative case study, it will be possible to study the role of the media in relationship to other social and economic factors. Using a single case study will provide a condensed study of media's impact on democratization in addition to a context for the general analysis. As a semi-developed country, Armenia can provide a picture of the development threshold necessary to sustain a democracy. Armenia's media landscape with its plurality of information sources makes it a strong test case for examining the impact of information on democratization. This thesis hypothesizes that Armenia is moving in the democratic direction. Reporters Without Borders ranks Armenia above all the other former Soviet republics (including Russia) in its annual press freedom index. Additionally, Freedom House in its 2008 Freedom in the World Survey, ranks Armenia as partly free, a status shared only by Kyrgyzstan and Georgia among the remaining former Soviet states. Looking at the evolution of democracy over time, one could make a case that a plurality of information will likely positively influence democratic development.
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