The PUBLIC OPEN SPACE Vision is the result of ongoing deliberations among representatives of science, public-service and non-commercial media as well as civil society organisations from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. It was presented to the public for the first time during the Communication Science Days 2019 of the Austrian Society of Communication Science (ÖGK) and the Institute for Journalism and Communication Science of the University of Vienna on 26 April 2019. See the list of initial signatories. We are documenting it here English translation.
Society, Media and Democracy in the Digital Age
Democracy needs an enlightened public. This requires trustworthy sources of information and a lively societal discourse. The initiative “PUBLIC OPEN SPACE” develops the perspective of a digital platform (#PublicOpenSpace) oriented towards the common good, which makes intensive cooperation between the world of media, education, culture and society possible.
The fact is: Disruptions in the digital network economy and the individual use of media open up completely new possibilities for creating a public sphere and democratic action, but at the same time they also bring with them threats to democracy: an observable monopolization of globally active corporations, the scenarios of unverifiable algorithm control and manipulation, digital surveillance and targeted propaganda on the net, and the formation of digital filter bubbles trigger a variety of fears. At the same time – and promoted by this development of new public spheres – populism and growing nationalism as well as the polarization and fragmentation of society are shaking confidence in democratic institutions and undermining the potential of digital technologies for egalitarian, democratic, public discourses. The forms of communication on the Internet are often characterized by a flood of information that can hardly be cognitively processed, ideologically distorted fake news, superficiality, a short attention span and a digital boulevard, making discussions, communication and mutual understanding between citizens impossible. In the age of personalised advertising, Google, Facebook, Twitter & Co, the attention and online activities of users become commodities. Essentially, economization dominates large parts of the Internet today.
How do the media and society react to this? How can democracy not only be defended in view of the numerous social, economic and technological disruptions that occur, but how can it be further developed and strengthened for the challenges in digital networks? How can opportunities for more freedom and diversity of opinion, independence, credibility and participation be opened up in the national, European and global context? But above all: How can the possibilities of digital communication be used for a diverse, open, public welfare-oriented, inclusive democratic discourse of society? How can a public welfare-oriented, public service and civil society network be developed and promoted? How can alternatives to YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. look like? How can we create a net-political service of general interest for democracy and society?
The initiative “PUBLIC OPEN SPACE” develops the perspective of a new digital, non-commercial platform (#PublicOpenSpace), which makes content and offers accessible, taking into account the social diversity as well as offering a public discourse space for the entire population. In order to do justice to an increasingly fragmented society, the media with a public mandate, in particular, have the function of facilitating connections between different parts of the population. Here, the traditional mandate of inclusion is given a new, urgent topicality. However, this requires a transformation process that calls for new cooperations and alliances between media with a public service mandate and public institutions from the fields of science and education, civil society, art and culture. These include, in particular, non-profit media that are committed to a comparable mission as well as civil society knowledge and education initiatives. This can make it possible to pick up on new habits of media use without working towards a narrowing of the offer through non-transparent personalisation.
The aim is an attractive, comprehensive and quality-oriented digital communication space #PublicOpenSpace, which on the basis of the protection of privacy and with a guarantee for quality of content and diversity via all ways of delivery allows users to communicate in a network oriented to democratic values and thus represents a contribution to the success of a digital democracy. Such a #PublicOpenSpace should make the knowledge stocks and the material that has been created with public funding permanently digitally accessible and usable for a broad public. Appropriate versions of open, Wikipedia-compatible licenses such as Creative Commons (CC BY SA) offer new possibilities. It is therefore of particular importance that, in addition to all public service providers, archives and museums, public educational and cultural institutions, universities and civil society organisations are represented and involved. In particular, it must be ensured that citizens can express themselves publicly and thus help shape democratic discourse.
Apart from organizational and technological questions that cannot be answered conclusively in the medium to long term under the current conditions of technological, social and political change, the #PublicOpenSpace must be a net-convergent space – a place of exchange between digital and physical spheres – that allows mutual communication between all socially participating groups and institutions. Above all, discourse-promoting actions must be inspired by establishing a communication culture that allows empathy and disclosure of the different motives, motivations and positions of these groups. Only then is the basis for coexistence and mutual understanding within a society possible. However, such a space must already conceptually resist the refusal to talk and the dissemination of ideological and propagandistic contents without interest in exchange and discourse, since these bear the seed of social polarization and decomposition within themselves.
“PUBLIC OPEN SPACE” is a transnational, European and open-ended initiative, consisings of representatives of science, public-service and non-commercial media as well as civil society organisations from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Currently, the initiative sees itself as a project that develops a public-civic partnership in a synergetic, cooperative and participatory way, which provides the basis for such a #PublicOpenSpace.”