8th Conference on Media and Governance
The 8th Annual Gershowitz Conference on Media and Democratic Governance co-sponsored by the Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, New York (CMPI) and the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University Newark
Theme: Halting Civic Ignorance: The Nexus of Politics, Politicians, Press, and Public Policy
Thursday, November 20, 2020
9 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.
Oak Conference Room
4 West 43rd Street
New York, NY

For eight years, the Center for Media & Peace Initiatives (CMPI) has partnered with the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University Newark to organize the Gershowitz Conference on Media and Democratic Governance focused on the intersection of press, people, peace, and public policy.


In his prescient novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-four,’ published in 1949, British writer George Orwell depicted a state that brainwashes its population into unthinking obedience to its leader, and where party propaganda trumps free speech and thought. Orwell coined the term ‘Newspeak’ as the official language to diminish the range of thought among citizens using such words as doublethink (belief in contradictory ideas simultaneously), which is reflected in the Party’s slogans: “War is peace,” “Freedom is slavery,” and “Ignorance is strength.”

To this day, the exploitation of the civic ignorance of citizens persists prompting former US Supreme Court Justice David Souter in 2012 to warn Americans of the dangers of civic ignorance. In his famous speech at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Law, Souter notes that a nation that skimps on teaching the skills, habits, and traditions of civic life endangers itself. In Souter’s words, “That is the way democracy dies.” Today, stories exposing the lack of global knowledge among American high school and college students are ubiquitous.

But, it is not just students who have difficulty navigating a world map. Global ignorance, in fact, is appallingly prevalent even among scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals who write about globalization and world history.

Democracy requires certain knowledge of how the media works and how media messages are constructed. Therefore, it is necessary to develop all technical, cognitive, social, civic, and creative capacities that allow a citizen to access the media, to have a critical understanding of the media and to interact with it. All these capacities allow a person to participate in the economic, social, and cultural aspects of society as well as to play an active role in the democratic process.

For too long, the elite in society including corporate media and professional politicians, and public servants continue to control access to information and communication thereby blunting the potency of the so-called democratization of information that the Internet facilitates.

It is against this background that the 2020 Gershowitz Conference on Media and Democratic Governance seeks to explore through discussion and debates the pervasive and persistent ignorance of civic life among citizens of democracies and forces driving civic illiteracy in the knowledge age.

The conference brings together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners from different disciplines (economics, sociology, public administration, political economy, business, anthropology, law, political science, information technology, journalism, education, etc.) to collectively explore the growing epidemic of global civic ignorance and consequences for nurturing a robust democratic participation among citizens. Three panels for the one-day conference follow:

Panel 1: Revitalizing Civic Education, Bridging Civic Opportunity Gap

Globalization and rapid technological advancements in the 21st century are profoundly impacting our democracy and conceptualization of what it means to be a productive member of society. As schools reorient their goals and procedures for preparing students for success in college and career in the changing landscape, it is vital to the health and future of our democracy that our schools also prepare students for a lifetime of knowledgeable, engaged, and active citizenship. Our ability to create and sustain a robust democracy depends on our ability to achieve this goal.

Sadly, the narrowing of the curriculum that has occurred over the past several years combined with the scarce attention to civic learning in a number of state standards and assessment measures has had a devastating effect on schools’ ability to provide high-quality civic education to all students. Further threatening the civic health of America is the civic opportunity gap that emerges when schools provide poor and nonwhite students fewer and less high-quality civic learning opportunities than they provide to the middle class and wealthy white students–all of this at a time when democratic aspirations are surging across the globe.

Panelists include educators, students, school administrators, public officials, and journalists who will explore the state of civic literacy among young and old Americans.

Panel 2: Civic Media, Community Press, and Challenges of Civic Ignorance

To some degree, civic ignorance is exacerbated by the actions or inactions of the media and the elite especially some politicians who profit off of the ignorance and casual scrutiny of the masses. It is most menacing in its professional varieties when well-resourced and self-serving elites intentionally cultivate ignorance. Historically, in the United States, the tobacco companies were the most treacherous and whose campaigns can be credited with thousands if not millions of unnecessary deaths. Currently, the climate change denial campaign is the most prominent and much of the intentionally spread misinformation can be traced back to a handful of dedicated billionaires.

The panel discusses how to create technical and social systems for sharing, prioritizing, organizing, and acting on the information. These include developing new technologies that support and foster civic media and political action; serving as an international resource for the study and analysis of civic media; and coordinating community-based test-beds both in the United States and internationally. The panel made up of journalists, editors, and publishers of community press or ethnic media discusses the actions and inactions of the media in confronting civic ignorance.

Panel 3: Civic Engagement and Participation

Civic engagement is based on the democratic idea that everyone who is affected by an issue that impacts the society should have a say in the decision making around it. It, moreover, holds the promise that public participation can influence decisions that affect the provision of services, future visions, and sustainability of democratic societies.

In recognizing the needs and aspirations of all citizens, civic engagement and participation promotes the idea that, through intentional interactions between government organizations and communities, citizens can – and do – influence policy-making.

Panelists (diplomats and international actors) from different countries weigh in on different conceptualizations and practices of civic engagement and participation. The session will examine innovative approaches to local journalism, including new audience engagement strategies to expand quality reporting, rebuild trust and increase civic engagement. It will also consider how public media, traditional news organizations and local TV news stations keep up with the changing ways people are consuming and engaging with news and information. This Panel includes representatives of nonprofit organizations involved with human rights, nonprofit news organizations, and undeserved and under-represented members of the society. Panel participants will discuss the experiences of their organizations’ with these issues, and participate in a dialogue of the best approaches to move accurate awareness of these issues forward.

Call for Participation

We invite individual and group participants to the daylong conference. We also invite you to submit relevant ideas to the 2020 Gershowitz Conference on Media and Democratic Governance. The ideas should be no longer than 200 words and should clearly state how the proposal fits into the subtheme selected. While we are interested in problem identification, we particularly encourage proposals with an action orientation. We are seeking conference participation from academics, practitioners, and students. For more information visit: www.mycmpi.org Email: info@cmpimedia.org Tel: 1-917-803-5540

Center for Media & Peace Initiatives, New York