Thursday, 9 September 2010


State of the Media this morning : more people embracing new media amidst more restrictions

  • Thursday, 9 September 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • Observers of the media today will agree that 'new media' or the non-traditional forms of media are undeniably becoming more popular by the minute. The number of blogs is increasing; more , newspapers are going online; their online readership is expanding massively and online journalism has made the flow of information subject to fewer restrictions and much faster.

    Nevertheless, the expansion of new media is proving to be complementary to the perseverance of traditional media - not a substitute to newspapers, radio and TV.

    Furthermore, the expansion of new media is not unchallenged: oligarchs, politicians, business tycoons and influential persons, communities, lobbyists and organisations are working hard to restrain the liberties of new media and prevent a backlash against their interests or an exposure of what they'd rather keep under the table.

    This morning, I came across a few studies by media observers illustrating these contradictory phenomena:

    First, I came across this study by the University of Missouri School of Journalism which argues that citizen journalism "isn’t stepping up sufficiently to fill the “information shortfall” caused by cutbacks in the newsrooms of newspapers and other traditional news organizations." According to the research team, the co-existence and complementarity between traditional legacy news organisations and citizen journalism - rather than the latter encroaching upon the former as some argue.

    The findings of the 'Mizzou j-school' came in line with the findings of a survey which found that "nearly half of the respondents said digital and social media has improved their work." According to the survey, "for the first time, journalists across Europe view new media as an asset and not a hindrance to their work." The study was EU-specific and surveyed 774 journalists across 21 European Union countries. The survey also noted that more journalists are expressing their concerns over the future of print media with over half fearing their publication's offline formats may face the axe in the future, compared with 32 per cent in 2009.

    Nevertheless, complementary or in competition - not all is positive on the media, news and freedom of expression front.

    At the end of last month, the European Journalism Centre (EJC) reported one infringement on new media after another. On June 29, ECJ Media News reported that Google and the CIA are investing in 'future' of WWW monitoring referring to their backing of 'Recorded Future' a company dedicated to "scouring tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come."

    Simultaneously, the Italian government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (who has been criticised time and again for his aggression on freedom of association, protest and expression), has proposed a new bill to parliament according to which bloggers, podcasters and even anyone who posts updates on social networks such as Facebook all face being slapped with fines of up to EUR 25,000 for publishing incorrect facts. The bill, which journalists' organisations are calling "authoritarian" will extend Italy's "obbligo di rettifica", or rectification obligation - a law dating back to 1948 that requires newspapers to publish corrections - to the internet and indeed anyone "responsible for information websites."

    Similar trends restricting the free flow of information and the use of new media and the internet are a global phenomenon. I wrote earlier this month about similar violations in Egypt where the Ministry of Interior inaugurated a new department to monitor pro-democracy activists and polish the image of the ruling party on social networking website Facebook as well as on Twitter and personal blogs. Last month, I also wrote on violations of freedom of expression in Lebanon where the army has threatened its critics of imprisonment - this comes against a backdrop of arrests targeting internet critics of the Lebanese president.

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