Demos, the “think tank for everyday democracy” in the UK, has recently published a report on the Video Republic which I recommend reading. The report, which focuses on young video creators in Europe, is primarily concerned with online video and it makes some strong arguments about the power of the Video Republic in the digital age: “Music, television and film companies no longer hold a monopoly on the way content moves between people.” It also outlines why this must be taken seriously by people concerned with freedom of expression, social inclusion, and democratic possibilities:
‘Content’ is not just an economic asset. Content is culture. It is the currency through which we build a sense of who we are. There is a democratic imperative to give people the ability to contest, remake and critique it. A society that claims to value free speech and a vibrant, grassroots cultural life has an important tension to manage. It means making some difficult and groundbreaking choices, but as Lawrence Lessig observes, there can be some guiding principles: ‘We start with the principle of free speech, not the values of the proprietary network. We start with the principle and see what’s possible.’
Much of the report’s research findings are not going to be a great surprise to those of us who are already working in this space but the conclusions they draw are definitely worth a read. More than anything it is refreshing to hear this subject being taken as seriously as it deserves to be because I bet a lot of people would agree with the former Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski who said that he was “not an enthusiast of a young person sitting in front of a computer, watching video clips and pornography while sipping a bottle of beer and voting when he feels like it.” The report shows how much Kaczynski and others underestimate what young people are getting up to in front of their computers (although I’m sure pornography and beer are often involved!) and it shows how vitally important personal expression and participation are if young people are to fulfill their role in a democracy:
These ‘new democratic institutions and practices’ now need to incorporate a visual, expressive dimension to be meaningful to the next generation of voters and citizens. Consequently, the major question arising from experiments in the Video Republic for decision makers should not be ‘how do we use video to communicate our messages?’. Rather, along with everyone else, they should ask how democracies will operate in a time when young people expect to be able to directly represent their own, more nuanced versions of themselves. Popular culture and personal information will be their raw materials; and videos, blogs and social networking sites are currently their tools of choice.
Video Republic is focused on online video-sharing among youth on a local level in Europe (specifically the UK, Turkey, Germany, Romania and Finland), and so doesn’t include or reference many international initiatives like Video 24/7 or the Hub, but they extract lessons for anyone working with video and inclusion anywhere, many of which are at the heart of why we built the Hub.
You can watch a video from Demos introducing the Video Republic here: