Blogging in the Free World

The following post by Sam Roggeveen first appeared on The Interpreter:

NY Times political reporter Matt Bai is in Sydney, and this morning he spoke at the US Consulate about how the internet has changed US politics. Some interesting observations:

-The internet is now part of the US political mainstream, which should be no surprise, given how important it has been for some time to others facets of American life. Politics is a late adopter.
-This is the last election cycle in which TV advertising will dominate campaign budgeting.
-The online revolution will be more important for politics than was the switch to TV in the 50s. The dominance of TV only lasted fifty-odd years, and it was a one-way medium. The internet is interactive and will last longer.

The Q&A session included discussion from the audience about how the internet is changing politics in other countries. We heard, for instance, that in the ROK, the internet has penetrated perhaps even deeper into the political culture than is the case in the US. The main reason seems to be that broadband rollout in Korea is so extensive.

But broadband penetration doesn’t quite explain why some countries have a very mature and lively political blogosphere, and other don’t. Australia has better broadband coverage than the US, yet our political blogosphere remains far less influential and dynamic than the American one.

An audience-member suggested the US First Amendment right to free speech was a factor, a view cautiously supported by this paper comparing US and Australian political blogging. Matt Bai’s reaction to this argument was that surely Australians are not afraid of getting thrown in jail for speaking their minds. True, though we do have much tougher defamation laws here, which is one reason why this blog doesn’t have open comment threads.

The above-mentioned academic paper argues that there are two good explanantions for the difference: (1) Americans have more to talk about than us contended Australians, with the US political blogosphere booming in part because of 9/11 and the Iraq war; and (2) The American political system is more open than ours, meaning there are more entrees into the political debate and more ways to influence opinion and policy. Our system, by contrast, is marked by tight party discipline and a very strong executive branch.

Those strike me as fairly compelling arguments (UPDATE: On reflection I think only point 2 is plausible), but does the Korea example fit that template or not? Reader comments welcome, via email.