Champions of the Public or Purveyors of Elite Perspectives? Interest Group Activity in Information and Communications Policy

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Communication is a valuable tool of democratic politics as it is used by citizens to persuade decision-makers, and it also allows groups to come together and provide citizens with information about the polity. Today, communication that relies on the Internet plays an increasing role in how information is exchanged between citizens. Theorists assert that the democratic potential of the Internet and related communication technologies is great, given that citizens are able to serve as both producers and receivers of information. Yet, the policies that underlie the communications industry and the technologies it produces can limit that potential. This industry and its technologies are influenced by business interests that can limit democratic potential in favor of marketplace demands, leaving the policymaking process described in arenas, including as information and communications (info-comm) policy, as more elitist in nature than political scientists would otherwise like to believe.

This study seeks to examine how elitism impacts the public interest position furthered by info-comm groups by exploring the following paradox: the leadership of the info-comm policy community help citizens participate in politics while at the same time deem the public generally unaware and uninformed on info-comm policy issues.

This study's primary research question asks whether leadership of the info-comm policy community inform themselves about the public interest through dialogue with citizens. The secondary question for this research observes whether the leadership of the info-comm policy community approach their decision-making in a democratic fashion. These research questions and related propositions were tested through semi-structured interviews with the leadership of the info-comm policy community, including info-comm group leaders and the foundation grant officers that financially support them. The responses of the interviewees illustrate the impact of elitism on the formulation of policy positions by leaders and pose further considerations for the activities of this policy community.

The findings of this study support the aforementioned paradox, suggesting that the public's voice in this policy arena may be more limited than we would otherwise expect. This could have implications for the future direction of info-comm policy and its related technologies, ultimately limiting the citizen participation in democratic deliberation.