Democracy is arguably the greatest political buzzword of our time and is invoked by everyone - but what does it mean? Can it be defined, measured, safeguarded? Can it be sold, bought, and transplanted? Can it grow? Can it die? What does it mean to people who can't even talk about it? What does it mean to people who don't believe in it? What does it mean to you?
In October 2007, ten one-hour films focused on contemporary democracy was broadcasted in the world's largest ever factual media event. More than 40 broadcasters on all continents were participating, with an estimated audience of 300 million viewers. Each of the broadcasters - an A-Z which includes everyone from Al Arabiya to ZDF - had been producing a locally-based seasons of film, radio, debate and discussion to tie in with the global broadcast of the Why Democracy? films.
The films were made by independent award-winning filmmakers from around the world, including China, India, Japan, Liberia, USA, Bolivia, Denmark, Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia. With subjects ranging from US torture methods to the election of a class monitor in a Chinese primary school to the Danish Cartoons scandal, the films take a wide-ranging and in-depth look at the world we live in today.
That's not all. We are creating 20 thought-provoking short films, dealing with personal, political and rights issues around the theme 'What does democracy mean to me?' These films will be available to view on whydemocracy.net.
The films produced by the project have a common reference beyond the thematic. Both the global broadcast and the debates arising from the films will lead to a greater understanding concerning both the conditions of governance facing people in different societies and cultures, as well as a broader understanding of democracy. And the long-term educational perspective will allow for maximum use of the combined elements of the project.The films will be accompanied by a widespread post-transmission distribution programme on DVD as part of the global project.
But our ambitions have extended well beyond the broadcast media. In a groundbreaking collaboration, Why Democracy? has teamed up with Metro Newspapers worldwide to ask everyone - from political leaders to athletes, celebrities to religious figures - 10 questions about democracy. The answers will appear online, in the press and in a collection of short films. The same questions will be part of a global opinion poll.
It's on the web that people form all over the planet can really join in. An unprecedented global film premiere on MySpace.com will launch the online debate. The there is whydemocracy.net with discussion forums, chat rooms and wikis buzzing, interviews with democracy heroes, our short films, a collection of educational web resources and even a "why democracy house" where young people from all over the world will keep the enormous web effort going.
In the three years that it has taken to create Why Democracy?, the world's political rights situation has become in some respects more terrifying. With so much violence done in the name of democracy, it has undoubtedly become a more contested idea. However, there is even greater need than before to understand it better and, despite its ironies, there is an unparalled interest in the promise it holds.
Fareed Zakaria writes: "If democracy becomes an empty shell, this would be a tragedy because democracy with all its flaws represents the 'last best hope' for people around the world. But it needs to be secured and strengthened for our times. Eighty years ago, Woodrow Wilson took America into the twentieth century with a challenge to make the world safe for democracy. As we enter the twenty-first century, our task is to make democracy safe for the world".
Why Democracy? hopes to encourage everyone to engage with this task. Wherever you are in the world, join in!