The rise of people's media

By Manzoor Chandio Oct 2, 2011

A piece of news or information is no more the property of the so-called ministries of information or media barons. New technologies have set free the information from official controls and ‘mainstream media’ newsrooms.
Often called liberating technologies, the cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. have assumed the role of new modes of disseminating information. They have allowed every citizen to become a publisher or a journalist. Today the first source of information is a mobile, instead of newspapers or TV channels, where one receives breaking news.
We live in a world profoundly changed by the combination of technology. In the developed world, most people now depend on their cell phones for information, as now they can access newspaper, radio, TV, a blog, all from their cell phone. In the West, newspapers are issuing their cell phone editions because of decreasing circulation despite free print editions, as despite being free, fewer people now read newspapers or switch on to TV for information.
Now people don’t have to wait for newspapers or TV channels to air their story where most of the air time is allocated to politicians who have delivered nothing in their constituencies. They can themselves publish, broadcast and exchange news through their blogs, YouTube and cell phones. They can broadcast stories of their untidy streets on YouTube without having to request the mainstream media and debate their issues and concerns about police sluggishness, corruption and judicial inaction. The new media has enabled the people to have their say and express their views publicly. The internet and mobiles have opened new possibilities for the mobilisation of stagnant communities.
With access to social media and through ‘innovation journalism’ people can bring about changes in society and exercise checks on governance. Now everyone who has a cell phone can have a say in the community or at the global level.
Another advantage of social media is that it lacks censorship. This liberation of information is actually moving people closer to free expression which will definitely help promote democratic values and performance of civilian institutions. Social media has the power to significantly mobilise people for social and political change considering the fact that over five billion cell phones are in use in the world.
With the advent of social media the role of newspapers, TV channels and radio as sources of information is being curtailed.
Conventional journalism (newsroom journalism) is no longer a gatekeeper of mass communication and knowledge dissemination. “As the impact of print and broadcast diminishes, gate-keeping is evaporating, and the business of journalism has joined the innovation economy,” believes David Nordfors of Stanford University, California.
At an international conference on innovation journalism in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, most of the speakers believed that mobiles and laptop have replaced the TV and newspapers for news. Among the educated classes, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. are the new sources of information. Social media has multiplied the sources for disseminating information, and these new gadgets and new sources of information also have the power to bring about ‘revolutions’.
President Barack Obama’s election and the role of text messages in the election of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003 are some glaring examples of how these new media have the power for running successful elections campaigns.
Recently, social media played a key role in bringing corrupt governments down in the Arab world. “When they write the history of the fall of Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, there will be a big chapter on the role of Facebook and Twitter.
Whether it’s organising rallies or simply raising spirits after years of suffering, the Arab youth and middle-classes have found their conversations on social media have given them the courage to overthrow their rulers,” comments Henley’s Hustings blog on BBC.
Social media can be used as alternative media by the people because the mainstream media is controlled by the private sector and they have their own corporate interests.
Through social media people can remain in touch and influence their politicians as well as make them accountable. They can organise themselves, take part in elections, put check on governance and run movements through social media.
Since these new sources of information can bring about revolutions, surely they can be used for strengthening nascent or instable democracies like ours. It is unfortunate that we still have a strong feudal class and each parliament has members of the same families which had been in power since its inception, while the masses have little or no representation, even though the masses are the ones who elect these feudal leaders.
In Pakistan civilian institutions are weak and unable to deliver and there is corruption everywhere. It is believed that change through technology is now possible. People can use text messages, voice mails and videos for exposing corruption. However, it depends on how communities as a whole are responding to innovation journalism. Most of the people in Pakistan live in rural areas and a large section of the population is uneducated.
Still, according to estimates, there are about 60 million cell phones in use in Pakistan and 600 million Facebook users; over 100 million smart phones are sold per quarter, while one billion Google search queries are carried out per day. These new technologies have allowed the people to open their own mobile-based radio stations for which only those from the rural areas will work as reporters which will enable them to have a say.
Marginalised segments of the society have generally been ignored by the mainstream media. Social media can give them a voice and ensure their participation in a democratic process. The use of mobile technology can also become instrumental in promoting election campaigns for those who cannot afford costly elections. They can send videos of their manifestoes and speeches on YouTube.
During the Arab spring, even CNN, BBC and other international media giants depended on social media for videos, picture and stories. Thus, social media has assumed the role of primary source of information and an alternative media for people. It has become the partner of democracy and innovation journalists need to take advantage of it by promoting the citizen’s participation in the positive use of technology.

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