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An influential book on communications in the 1980s was Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Communication, by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. It proposed a “propaganda model” as a way of understanding how the mass media system intersected with the U.S. economy, political system, and mobilising support for the special interests dominating state and corporate activity.

This article sets out the conclusions of a year-long research project led by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. Our consultations heard the voices of people from around 80 countries. Civil society leaders, activists and stakeholders shared 54 written contributions and provided 97 interviews, while 26 democracy dialogues – informal citizen-led discussions on challenges with and hopes for democracy – were convened in countries around the world.

Wikileaks and false news; an American Presidency run via Twitter; Charlie Hebdo; hackers manipulating elections, stealing corporate secrets and shutting down public utilities; mass surveillance via the internet of things; 24/7 news, information and disinformation cycles broadcast continuously on public and personal screens; wall-to-wall cultures of celebrity and political bullying and libel via social media; social media supplanting face-to-face relations at dinner tables and in bedrooms; conspiracy theories overriding peer refereed science … No wonder many young people are checking out into worlds of videogames, comic superheroes and pharmacologically altered realities. While schools and school systems stand frozen in the headlights.