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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:30 03/09/2007
Debate: Forum

GLOCOM Forum on Netizens and the Information Society at a Crossroad

panelistsGeneral Discussion Session (Discussion Summary):

There were three workshops on the following topics:

Workshop 1: "Disruptive Policy and the Political Role of Netizens"

Chair: Hiroshi NAKAJIMA (Keio University and GLOCOM)
Main Speaker: Shin YASUNOBE (Stanford University)
Panelists: Hiroshi SUZUKI (Keio University), Mitsuhiro MAEDA (National
Graduate Institute for Policy Studies), Hajime YAMADA (NTT

Workshop 2: "Whose Rights Are They?"

Chair: Minoru SUGAYA (Keio University)
Main Speaker: Koichiro HAYASHI (Keio University)
Panelists: Jiro Makino (Internet Lawyers Conference), Yasuhiko MATSUURA (Asahi Shimbun), Hidemi SUZUKI (Hiroshima University)

Workshop 3: "Local Initiative and Cooperation in Regional Informatization"

Main Speaker: Tadamasa KIMURA (Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Technology)
Panelists: Yasuo SHIOZAKI (Kiryu Area Internet Council Office), Takechika TSURUTANI (Future Institute Corporation), Konomi TOMISAWA (Institute for Socioeconomic Infrastructure & Securities, Inc.)

Following the workshop session all participants in the forum gathered for general discussions, moderated by Yoichi MASUZOE (GLOCOM), where the representatives of the three workshops first summarized discussions of their respective workshops as follows:

Hiroshi NAKAJIMA (Workshop 1):
In Japan the process of governmental policy formation is not working, especially in IT-related areas, where interest groups are changing rapidly over time. The current process of policy formation is still under the strong influence of the traditional network of interest groups and, therefore, is incapable of accommodating "disruptive" (discontinuous) policy changes in response to the emergence of brand new technology in the IT era. On the other hand, the power of netizens is rising significantly and their political influence can no longer be ignored. The question is how we can get netizens actively involved in the policy formation process for the government to solve various problems in IT-related areas. One idea is to have bureaucrats coordinate netizens' opinions through a kind of "information platform" for policy formation by making use of mailing lists, bulletin boards, etc. There seem to be pros and cons regarding "political leadership" at the Prime Minister's office to reflect netizens' opinions more directly for policy formation and execution.

Hidemi SUZUKI (Workshop 2):
The main speaker (Koichiro HAYASHI) has maintained that the present legal system, including basic human rights and copyrights, mostly depends on the industrial society regime, where the information society requires a new treatment such as the Information Bill of Rights or Digital Creation Rights. Three panelists (a journalist, a lawyer, and a constitution scholar) as well as the audience have commented on this view, some supportive and some skeptical. No definite conclusion has been reached, but some consensus has emerged that legal enforcement thorough the official judiciary process is no longer effective to deal with newly emerging phenomena, and we should place more emphasis on self-governance in the community in line with the development of the Internet. It also has been recognized that in the copyright area, some distribution-centered legal approaches may be more desirable than the present copyrightable work-oriented system, which focuses much more on goods than on mental output per se.

Hiroshi NISHIYAMA (Workshop 3):
The panelists themselves have been working on regional informatization and community cooperation to deal with local revitalization, education, etc., but at the same time have recognized the difficulty in activating local communities to play an active role in regional informatization, since the information revolution is breaking down physical barriers that have defined and protected regions and localities in the past. At the current turning point of civilization in the IT revolution, existing institutions and systems are becoming obsolete as individuals, corporations and other social members are trying to adapt to the rapid trends of informatization, and these phenomena are widely observed in local regions and communities. While awareness of self-governance and civil accountability is increasing, conservative sentiments also are being hardened. The question is how to close this kind of divide in the community. There should be some intermediate power, neither private nor governmental, to take local initiative and promote community cooperation, but we have just begun to move in that direction.

Shumpei KUMON (GLOCOM),who attended workshop 3, made the following comment:
When we take a global viewpoint, we must recognize the fact that there seems to be increasing resistance everywhere in the world to the information revolution and globalization trends. This is a kind of reaction to disintegrating localities and communities and increasing disparities between the haves and the have-nots in the IT era. In view of these global trends and problems, Japan's local regions and communities are, ironically, still "fortunate" in that protective barriers are yet to be destroyed. So there are various reactions to the current condition for regional informatization in Japan. Some actors are still trying to work with local politicians for community networking within the existing framework of regions and communities, whereas others are going beyond the existing boundaries, acting as if no barriers were present in the IT era. That seems to be the situation now in Japan.

audienceThe following are some of the discussions involving the audience:

Q: I understand that at workshop 1, there was some argument for a kind of forum to be formed by bureaucrats to absorb netizens' opinions in policy formation and decision making. But aren't politicians supposed to represent citizens' opinions, including netizens? Does this mean that representative democracy is no longer working in Japan?

A: In the past the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy has been doing information gathering, processing and editing in policy formation. There is a possibility in the future that the Prime Minister's office may be able to take over those kinds of functions, but not individual politicians, since they cannot do much beyond information gathering.

Q: The current local political system seems to assume that it is possible to reach a compromise among different interest groups within a regional district or a local community. But regional boundaries and barriers already have been broken down, so we need to come up with a new political system that does not depend on local interest groups. How would the panelists at workshop 3 respond to this argument?

A: It is not quite accurate to say that regional boundaries and barriers already have been broken down. There still is some room for local political reform by netizens based on existing local networks. Actually, local communities are not disappearing, and it is a good opportunity to make use of IT for the sake of communities now.

Q: In some cities such as Mitaka, citizens are quite active in forming basic policy agendas for themselves and local governments are supporting such movements. In this context, it is hard to accept the assumption apparently made at workshop 1 that the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy should decide everything and hand it down to the local level.

A: I believe everyone on the panel at workshop 1 holds the view that the current policy formation process must change fundamentally, as the traditional bureaucratic system is no longer working and cannot be revived simply by using the Internet. The reason for our focus on policy formation in the central government is that fact that many of the panelists are close to Kasumigaseki, so it is natural to discuss how to change the central system. Of course, the same system could be applied to local regions and communities.

Q: What is changing most in policy formation these days is the extent to which information is being collected and also the probability of making policy mistakes by depending on existing interest groups. Of course, this is mainly due to the IT revolution and cyber-activism, as discussed at workshop 1. But when it comes to local regions or communities. The true problem seems to lie in a very different area from IT or netizens. Local regions and communities do not have enough money to respond to public needs in their localities, so they are forced to look to the central government. If that is changed, many of the current problems facing local regions and communities would be solved, regardless of the IT revolution or cyber-activism.

A: While it is true that money is the main problem for local communities, there are smart communities and not-so-smart communities that would behave very differently once they are given enough money. Such smart communities as Mitaka City would become smarter by involving citizens and netizens, but other communities might well do something foolish. That is why we have emphasized the importance of local initiative and responsibility for more active involvement of residents and netizens at workshop 3.

Q: There appear to be various kinds of divides, not only the haves vs. the have-nots, but also global vs. local, and public vs. private in the IT era, and we seem to be in a dilemma much like the so-called "innovator's dilemma". In that context, we wish to rely on the legal system as the last resort to deal with the dilemma, but we tend to be disappointed by a seemingly grand proposal for a new legal system, as made at workshop 2, since it will take time to introduce and implement such a system.

A: Probably the last thing to change is the legal system. That is why we need to speak up now for a change in the system that otherwise would not change for a very long time.

Q: There are relatively few people involved in "regional or community informatization." This is partly due to the fact that there are many different definitions of "regions and communities" as well as "informatization," and there is no common language to unite those who are working on regional and community affairs and also on information and telecommunications. Could anyone give some examples of successfully overcoming this difficulty?

A: In Mitaka City the mayor and citizens have reached an agreement for partnership on community affairs. It is important to reach and announce an agreement publicly by key players in the community, if possible, as has been the case with Mitaka City. On the other hand, in the cases of Harajuku and Taito-ku, there was no way to reach such an agreement, since long-time residents and temporary tenants tend to have conflicting interests. But still some consensus can be reached among those who speak "different languages" by clearly showing the merits of the Internet, which could reduce costs or increase profits significantly.

MASUZOE (GLOCOM: moderator):
It is true that the Internet is really changing the nature of politics in general and elections in particular. It is now possible to win votes by the Internet, and not by money. In Japan there is a clear discrepancy between citizens' long-term needs and politician's short-term needs. This can be overcome in the IT era. With respect to the issue of copyrights, we are entering a new era when authors will be able to price their works themselves. For example, they can charge the valuable information they offer on the Internet, while contributing their articles to influential mass media for very small honoraria by choice. In this context, the issue of copyrights may not be as important as it may look. Finally, the IT era is a challenging time for local regions and communities, as they are given effective means to revitalize themselves by information and telecommunications no matter where they are located. This will be a good time for us all.


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