In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 September the International Day of Democracy, providing us with “an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world” and arguing that “democracy is as much a process as a goal” (UN). In many countries we can see a deterioration of conditions for democracies, through various forces both internal and external. This has become more noticeable during the ongoing pandemic, but it started long before, which is also indicated by instituting such a day 14 years ago.
Study some of the maps on the Secretary General’s policy brief from April 2020 – in particular the two on school closures and stringency of government containment measures. Also read the concerns and suggested countermeasures on the UN Democracy Day’s website and prepare for a discussion of what threatens a democracy and how we can strengthen it.
Also read the New York Times Learning Network’s editors Schulten and Engle’s introduction to the late Congressman John Lewis’ essay “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”. Check out thoughts and responses on the hashtag #DemocracyDay and reflect on Schulten and Engle’s questions posed after Lewis’ essay, as published on the New York Times Learning Network exactly a year ago.
The late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis argued that “[d]emocracy is not a state. It is an act”. Compare this with UN’s claim that democracy is both a process and a goal. What is democracy to you?
The Taliban is in power again in Afghanistan, 20 years after 9-11 and the following invasion of Afghanistan. The USA have decided to pull out all their remaining troops by August this year, leading to total chaos and heart-breaking scenes at the airport in Kabul, with local Afghans trying to board planes to get out of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden has stated that the withdrawal will be completed and that the main concern for him is getting American troops home safely.
So what is the problem? Should we care about the development in Afghanistan? Is it an international responsibility to “clean up” after the mess we have left and to ensure a democratic development in Afghanistan? Or should we just leave them alone and hope that human rights will be respected and democracy thrive? (not very likely….)
Using the sources below, discuss these questions in your groups. Choose a secretary who writes down the main points of your answers and discussion. Also, discuss the reliability of these sources and how they differ in language and style.
Western Sahara is often called Africa’s last colony and also a forgotten conflict. On March 3, you were so lucky to have a visitor via Zoom – Asria Mohamed. She works for The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, and talked about the Morroccan occupation, life in Algerian refugee camps, and the part of the UN in this conflict.
Write a blog post about what you learned about this conflict and activism to support the Sahrawi people in their struggle for independence. Comment on the lack of media attention for this conflict and find out why the media wrote about in again in November/December 2020.
Asria said in the meeting that she feels she has no choice when it comes to her activism for the Sahrawi people – what do you think she meant by that?
Hope you enjoyed the visit – Asria is an excellent speaker and a brilliant woman.
“Democracy was dealt a major blow in 2020. Almost 70% of countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index recorded a decline in their overall score, as country after country locked down to protect lives from a novel coronavirus. The global average score fell to its lowest level since the index began in 2006.” (Economist Intelligence Unit, https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2020/)
Discussion questions after watching this film on Netflix:
Say something about (some of) these characters from the movie. How did they strike you? What kind of “stereotypical persons” are some of them portrayed as? In what ways do you think the filmmakers used humor/irony with them?
How did the movie present US politics and the presidential election? Do you think the movie chose a side? Discuss how the movie portrayed this.
How did the movie portray fake news and how they spread?
Was it difficult to separate irony from facts in this mockumentary?Give examples from the film.
Julian Assange is the head of WikiLeaks and faces a harsh prison sentence in the USA if he were to be extradited from Britain. He released over 750,000 documents which showed corruption and human rights abuse at the hands of the American government in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at the prison camp on Guantánamo. The documents were given to him by private Chelsea Manning, who was arrested in 2010 and served 7 years in prison. Just yesterday, a British court decided against extraditing Assange, on the grounds of his mental health. Edward Snowden is a former contractor for the National Security Agency who in 2013 transmitted to journalists 1.7 million classified documents detailing NSA online surveillance of American citizens. He was charged under the Espionage Act, but gained asylum in Russia.
So, are these people heroes or criminals? How crucial is it for a democracy to have whistleblowers? And where is the line between warning the public and exposing wrongs on the one side and breaking the law and putting your country at risk on the other? What is more important, freedom of speech and the right to privacy, or loyalty to your employer and country? And what costs does this come with for the individual who has to make that choice?
A court sketch of Julian Assange at the Old Bailey in London for the ruling in his extradition case on Monday, January 4, 2021.
Press freedom and journalistic independence are values that democratic societies cherish. Unfortunately, too many countries do not respect these values. Today we will look at press freedom in the world. Each group will be allotted a country. Spend the rest of the lesson doing research on this country’s treatment of the media, and condition and status of free press.
In the groups make a Prezi or Google presentation of media usage in the country you have been researching. Use the websites Reporters Without Borders (https://rsf.org/en and https://rsf.org/en/ranking) and Committee to Protect Journalists (https://cpj.org/). You may use other sources as well. If you come across specific stories about journalists/bloggers/ others who have somehow been punished for their involvement in and use of media, tell us! Be ready to present your findings at 14:00 today.
Group Erika: Hong Kong
Group William: Brazil
Group Victoria: Russia
Group Verner: Egypt
Group Dejen: India
Group Øystein: South Africa
do they have a free press or any kind of censorship? Why/why not?
do they have state media or not? What could be the importance of this?
What are the biggest newsproviding media in this country?
Who owns these media?
How many use these?
Are they politically minded – liberal, conservative etc? If so, how is this seen?
Find at least two of the biggest newsproviding media in this country and look at their frontpages: compare headlines, choice of causes, focus, read a story from each and comment on the journalism. Also, find them on social media; check out their Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account. How are they on social media? Many followers? What kind of profile do they have here? What kind of cases are their fronting on their social media?
How has president Trump met the Covid-19 pandemic? Fox reports that his vice president could not have been more proud, Alternet repeats allegations of him being a mass murderer, while the New York Times asks questions. How can the same issue cause so different “truths?” And what is true?
Keeping the five C’s in mind (context, credibility, corroboration, construction and compare) – visit the three links above and read/watch how the different news outlets respond to how Trump has handled the pandemic.
Then, use the post-its you have been given to answer the questions below. One post it per answer, and then put up your post its around the classroom.
how do the different articles portray Trump’s reaction to the pandemic?
What adjectives/loaded words are used in the different articles?
Can you tell which article is more liberal and which is more conservative? How
Which of the articles were easiest to read? Why?
Which of the articles do you find most believable? Why?