Interview with Peter Bradwell, Demos

Demos, the ‘think tank for everyday democracy’, recently produced a report that charts the rise of the ‘Video Republic’, its term for a new space for debate and expression dominated by young people.  Peter Bradwell, one of the report’s co-authors, talks to Its Open.

What is your definition of the Video Republic?

We talk about the Video Republic as a new public realm created through the explosion in audio-visual expression. Video and film is a powerful medium – from the Zapruder film of Kennedy’s assasination to the fall of Saddam, it has captured the defining moments of the recent history.

Now, facilitated by wider access to technology and internet access, more people can make video and share their ideas and experiences with people across the world. The Video Republic is a way of thinking about this new space – as a realm of debate, citizenship, and space for influencing other people. It’s a new way to be part of the public realm.

What challenges does the Video Republic present to Government and business?

First, there’s the ability to operate in the Video Republic. Just because
video cameras are cheaper, and just because more people have access to the internet, doesn’t mean inequalities have disappeared. We need to think about who has access to the space, who is listened to, and who regulates the rules and norms of behaviour there.

Secondly, there’s the challenge for business and government of communication. It can be a less controllable and predictable space than traditional media, and it’s more amenable to conversational, two-way communication.

Thirdly, there’s the issue of intellectual property. The currency of the Video Republic is, of course, video. Ownership of that video and the rights of those making and using it are not clear cut. It’s important that we keep our eyes on what will facilitate a healthy realm of cultural exchange and participative debate – rather than simply complaining that online video might be violating intellectual property rules.

How can business leaders and Governments tap into the Video Republic in constructive ways?

Government needs to support this space as a public realm – a place that needs to remain open and guided by the kind of rules we want other public realms to follow. That means thinking of the skills people have to operate in this space. It means thinking about how people are equipped to manage their ‘digital’ selves and their profile online. And it means regulation that foregrounds the protection of freedom of expression and healthy cultural exchange.

Do you see online video as mainly incoherent and entertainment-led?

Not at  all. It might seem incoherent, but trying to look for shape and meaning in online video as a whole is like trying to watch all television and radio channels at the same time. It becomes noise, and it seems

Firstly, we need to understand who is making what and how – the really significant change is in how video is made, and by whom. Secondly, there are countless examples – many of which we talk about in our report – from the Video Republic of content focused on politics, social change, or corruption, through to commentaries on people’s everyday thoughts and experiences. It’s not blanket coverage of parliamentary politics, but it’s not just sneezing animals either.

Isn’t video a form of broadcasting? So how could it be used in a
participative way in order to evolve new policies and consult with people  over issues?

It’s more communication than broadcast. Video can be used to help
politicians communicate with people more openly – there are plenty of
examples of this. But, important as these are, the possibilities of the Video Republic cut much deeper than the workings of formal democracy.

Broadcasting plays, and has played, a huge role in helping people learn about the world, and in framing how we understand it. It has huge power in this respect. The potential of the Video Republic comes in part through the possibility that more people will be able to access this power. It’s more a crucible of deliberation than a decision making mechanism.

Do you see it having a wider impact?

There’s nothing inevitable about the development of the Video Republic, or the effect this and similar things will have on our society. However, this is a key moment to think about how we want. This involves thinking of our rights as citizens, commentators and members of the public realm – and it involves making sure we begin our thinking with what this space can do for the principles of free speech and of a healthy democracy.

The Video Republic is part of a potential ‘expressive democracy’. This should and can look and work the way we want it to. But it needs our understanding and support for that to happen.

You can download the report from the Demos website