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The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the body responsible for running South Africa’s elections, are to consider inviting and accrediting bloggers alongside media. I was invited to present a paper (pdf) on new media at the IEC conference called “The Role of the Media in Promoting Electoral Democracy” at the Reserve Bank in Pretoria on Thursday. It was a conference attended by media, politicians and IEC officials.
At the end of my presentation I urged the IEC to extend an invitation to local and international bloggers to cover the upcoming elections alongside journalists. My proposal received a positive response from Dr Brigalia Bam (Chairperson) and Ms Pansy Tlakula (Chief Electoral Officer). At the end Ms Thoko Mpumlwana (Deputy Chairperson) announced to the audience that the IEC was committed to looking into the idea of inviting bloggers to cover the elections and seemed enthusiastic about it.
This is a breakthrough and I applaud the IEC for its open-mindedness and commitment to democracy. In many ways the internet is the ultimate democratic medium. The web has made media and publishing more democratic and ensured a plurality and diversity of views. At the core of this phenomenon is the fact internet has made it easy and cheap to create and distribute content — and that is a profoundly democratic thing. This is now being extended by the mobile web, which is making the internet even more accessible.
I also spoke about how both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are campaigning online heavily and using social media. These savvy politicians have set up their own Facebook groups and are represented on a host of social media sites, including Twitter, Flickr, Linkin, and YouTube. In fact, Obama has racked up more than 11-million You Tube views and is by far the most popular candidate online. The battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate is being waged as much online as it is in the real world.