Online media and democracy : a critical analysis of the role played by Zimbabwe's online English newspapers in the run-up to 2008 elections.
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This study discusses the potential for promoting cyber democracy through interactivity, on the Internet. Both interactivity and cyber democracy will lead to a broadening of the Zimbabwean public sphere by including online newspapers in the media circle. It views interactivity, cyber democracy and the public sphere as central to free expression. Zimbabwean online newspapers are not fully exploiting the Internet’s potentials to promote the threefold ideal for public deliberations identified in this study. The content analysis of 22 Zimbabwean online newspapers revealed that many newspapers are providing interactive tools that are of limited relevance to interactive communication. The different models for assessing interactivity, cyber democracy and the public sphere in the online newspapers that were employed in this study point to very low levels of interactivity, hence the rest of the components were affected. The three aspects of public deliberation identified in this study were found to be interdependent on each other. The qualitative research procedure confirms and provided reasons for low interactivity on Zimbabwe’s online newspapers from the editors’ perspectives. The online editors are cautious in their approach to a free-form type of public deliberations. Interactivity, potentials for cyber democracy and possibilities of a broadened public sphere were found to be very low on Zimbabwe’s online newspapers. However, the Internet itself is endowed with great possibilities for political deliberations that remain untapped. The onus is upon the newspapers to accord citizens opportunities for participation by making available tools for higher levels of interactive communication.
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