Sunday, June 24, 2007

Democracy Struggles

I know I've promised before and have yet to deliver but, one day, I really do plan on writing more on deliberative democracy. For now though, I thought I'd point to an example of representative democracy struggling.

Democracy, relies on informed voter choice* and so, it follows, that it is always going to struggle to be any better than the information sources available to voters. And too often these sources are far from perfect.

In the particular case of the proposed Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill**, as Media Watch so excellently showed this morning, our own major information sources have been pitifully inadequate on the matter. Television discussions have been one-sided and the lines between news and infomercials have been blurred shamefully in several newspapers. Which has meant that campaigners against the bill (the campaign has been driven to a significant part by business interests) have been able to spread a lot of shoddy information.

Me personally - and this is a view that I have come to over the years that I have lived with chronic illness and tried a variety of alternative treatments - I am in favour of a regulation system for natural health products. One that (a) means that the sellers of such products can't lie about their effects and (b) which means that dangerous products can't be sold to the public. This is the exact same way I feel about pharmaceuticals. I am, however, not wholeheartedly in favour of the Therapeutic Products and Medicines bill. It's regulation costs may be prohibitive and biased against small businesses, and it may be in conflict with the Treaty of Waitangi.

About these two points I would like some honest information. Instead, though, I am getting utter nonsense (often from vested interests) like the claim that the bill will be the end of the All Blacks (no, seriously).

This is all too typical of our current form of democracy where most media organisations are run as businesses; something that means that money talks. Not always, not entirely, but enough to drown out the truth too often.

It also means that we get to hear far too much from people from Christine Rankine; people who are well off, well connected, and well stupid.

[Update: just to be clear, I've got friends and colleagues opposed the bill, and they are most definitely not stupid. So my comment above is not meant to imply that all the bill's opponents are stupid, just that Christine Rankine's proclamations on it almost always are.]

* as well as voting (of course) civil society, social capital and a moderately snug fit with soft institutions.
** another galling example from the last week has been National Radio's decision to rely on tax accountants for the bulk of commentary the proposed plan to remove the ability use losses on rental property as a tax write off. Am I the only one who can see a conflict of interest here?

No comments: