The People's Right to Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway

The People's Right to Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway

The People's Right to Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway

The People's Right to Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway


This important volume presents the pros and cons of a national service that will meet the information needs and wants of all people. In the preface, Everette E. Dennis, Executive Director of The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, asks, "What will a true information highway -- where most citizens enjoy a wide range of information services on demand -- do to local communities, government, and business entities, other units of society and democracy itself?"

It is no longer a question of whether a vastly expanded "information highway" will be built in America. Telephone and cable companies have already inaugurated their plans, and government will most likely incorporate such plans into the economic development policy of the late 1990s. The key questions remaining are: Who will pay for it? and Whom exactly will it serve? The People's Right to Know suggests that serving the everyday citizen should be the main objective of any national initiatives in this area. It counsels that evolving electronic services are new communications media that should be deployed with a main focus on the public's needs, interests, and desires.

If advances in the nation's public telephone network will make information services as easy to use as ordinary voice calls, or newspapers promise vast new electronic services awaiting their readers, more attention must also be devoted to the information needs and wants of everyday citizens. In our increasingly multicultural and technology-driven society, enormous inequities exist across America's socioeconomic classes regarding access to information critical to everyday life. If an information highway is to be effective, we need to ensure that all Americans have access to it; its design must start with the everyday citizen. This powerful new medium at our disposal must consider policy that includes attempts to close the information gap among our citizens. It must ensure equal access to data regarding job, education, and health information services; legal information on such topics as immigration; and transactional services that offer assistance on such routine but time-consuming tasks as renewing a driver's license or registering to vote.

Media and telecommunications professionals, communication scholars, and policymakers, including two former chairmen of the Federal Communications Commission, provide insights and pointed commentary on the nature and shape of an information highway designed as a new public medium aimed at serving a wide range of public needs. Their work should improve our basis for deciding if there are means by which an enhanced public telecommunications network can benefit the everyday working American.


Many of the ideas expressed in this book would have seemed fanciful, if not fantastic, a decade ago. In a sense, what this book and the various activities--conferences and seminars--associated with it urges is a radical proposal for ultimate information literacy. On one side of the equation is the great storehouse of information assembled and accumulated by all of society's institutions and largely held by vendors in the communications industry and in nonprofit organizations. Stored information from the past as well as that being currently developed and some yet unanticipated is stockpiled in that imaginary warehouse. On the other side of the equation are institutions and organizations as well as citizens, consumers, and others who constitute the human community--all needing, wanting, and asking for information. In between these transactions are various systems, instruments, and technologies capable of delivering information, knowledge, and data to those who want and need it.

It is this ground between actual information and the demand for it that commands the attention of this book and its various contributors. On that ground it is proposed that a vast information highway be laid, a multifaceted system that can acquire, process, disseminate, and store information of all kinds. Students of technology tell us that the technical tools to make this happen are either already available or on the drawing board. These tools would allow individuals and institutions to plug into the information highway and retrieve any kind of information they might desire--information structured to meet their specific needs and responsive to interactive commands and messages. In one formulation, the information highway requires a vast fiber optic network that would augment and supplement the electronic and other messages now available through telecommunication aided by satellites and computers and through older technologies of printing.

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