Media and social media

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The era of citizen journalist is at its pinnacle at the moment. It is difficult to say if this is fortunate or otherwise. From the look of it, the answer seems mixed. While it is true there is a deluge of easily accessible information available to everyone now, because everybody with a smartphone with an internet connection can now call himself a citizen journalist, uploading news as well as personal opinions at his or her sweet whim, and without any restraint from anybody. But there are dangers as so many are today realizing. Unrestrained freedom can become a free for all, and this is what anarchy is made of. Indeed, those who rely on social media too much for their daily news and opinions are more likely to end up confused and confounded, especially when sensitive events unfold. This being so, it must still be said that when it comes to the crux, people still rely on traditional media for authentic information. Those of us in the media, who too had for long come to doubt the continued relevance of the tradition media with the advent of social media, were indeed reassured that the traditional media still command tremendous faith of the public. The complaints, some of them bothering on anger and outrage, at the decision of newspapers in the state to halt publication for some days to last out the difficulties of the demonitisation of Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes and their slow replacement with freshly minted and designed Rs.500 and Rs.2000 notes, is just one evidence. If not for the cable TV channels which filled in the void left by the withdrawal of newspapers to some extent, the public bewilderment would have been much more. This void, it is also evident would have been far beyond the citizen journalists alone to fill. The social media then at best can provide the first whistle and hint of what may have happened, and never a conclusive evidentiary reportage of what actually happened.

Moreover, the social media, much like the world wide web it operates within, is unregulated. The elaborate and systematic checks and balances structured into the editorial hierarchy of the tradition media, as well as the traditional media’s reliance on, and therefore fear of losing public faith, ensure inaccuracies are filtered out to the extent possible before the matter goes to press. Though a greater majority of media organisations are middle of the road walkers in the belief this is what objectivity is about, there are also media organisations with definite ideological leanings, but they wear their ideologies on their sleeves, so that readers and audiences are left with no doubt what flavour to expect. However, they will try and win you with their arguments to also take their viewpoints, but not attempt to cheat you into doing so by hiding facts or data. This is again much unlike the social media as news source where unauthenticated information and even outright propaganda, are often projected as facts. This happens on a routine basis, so the damage would also be routine though at the unconscious level, for this it is the nature of the beast. Just recall the manner in which the outlawing of Khomdram Ratan, the leader of the ILPS movement unfolded, to see how overt and dangerous these damages can be. With all its moles and warts, its weaknesses and poor resources, the era of the traditional media is unlikely to end soon, unlike the gleeful predictions of many bumbling and farcical clairvoyants.

This also brings us back to the debate on what is freedom. The one definition which has held is that there cannot be freedom without law. Indeed, freedom needs to be defined as per the law, and therefore absence of law is no freedom. The internet so far is marked by this absence and therefore the freedom that it promises is also illusory and dangerous, that is until it too comes to be subject to its own sets of consensual laws, norms and etiquettes. For an easier illustration, just imagine what our traffic would be like if there were no laws, norms or etiquettes governing it, and everybody were to drive as they please. Manipur’s traffic chaos has a lot to do with a similar absence or depletion of these qualities. Some bit of law has internalised, therefore everybody generally drives on the left and overtakes from the right. Beyond these most basics of traffic laws, there is nothing much to say of the respect for other norms and etiquettes. Hopefully, someday soon, things will improve to add quality to everybody’s life. Hopefully also someday soon, the internet too will come to be under similar moderations of civilizational values.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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