Once again, the question of the role of media and journalists in society is emerging after the Journalists’ Syndicate released several thousand names of journalists so that they could receive government grants.
The obvious thinking behind this is that if you have journalists on your side, you can have an easy ride in government. But this is wrong, and is occurring as the majority of strong TV bulletins on the recent riots against businesses perceived as “un-Islamic” in Zakho are proving that the way the media is working has changed forever. The coverage provided further evidence of the changing nature of the media and the way reporting news has changed for ever.
This creates many new issues for the public, the media and the authorities. Historically, the role of media in any society was to act as a conduit between the government and the public. Initially, the government and party-owned media were closely linked, and as a result it was a very much a one-way stream. In contrast, opposition media started to own their own outlets, which began providing the other side of events. Depending on how much money you had, your voice could be louder and much more widespread.
Then after the one-way media era came the Al-Jazeera phenomenon, when as viewers we were able to see both views on one issue in one place. However, these perspectives were too heavily subjected to the opinions of the paymasters of the network.
All of this was essentially a one-way system from the government, from the opposition and from the media outlet to the people. With the Internet taking over — and specifically web 2.0 (when you are able to take from the net and contribute at the same time) — today, as we can see from the majority of the news bulletins, this has changed and the people have become an important provider of information. It has changed the relationship between all three.
In the past, the government (or power) was at the top of the information chain, feeding information to the media, which in turn fed the information to the public. Today this has changed. The three are interlocked like three wheels in a machine. Each one can rotate the other two by being the first to provide information.
For this to happen, each wheel needs to have properties different from the other one, but it all boils down to efficiency and money. Looking at the three components of this new setup, one can clearly see that the only surviving wheel is that of the people.
Governments are by nature inefficient and are unable to justify providing a huge budget for the media forever. The media sees its role as a tool to inform and to educate the public; this was done at the hands of journalists and their professionalism was key to any media outlet. But this too is an expensive venture and cannot continue forever. Even the likes of the BBC which receives money from the people of the UK, are starting to come under attack and are questioning the viability and real use of their product as a public service.
The only model that lasts is that of the citizens. The people have the largest reporting network in any place; they are all equipped with some sort of a recording device and a camera. They all have access to the Internet and have Facebook accounts. Their passion for reporting and dedication is a lot more than any other government or media outlet. Governments fear giving out information. Media too fears giving out inaccurate information. As a result, both are slow. The people’s media is quick and raw, and hence more credible.
This fact is changing the way we are creating and consuming media. It’s changing the way information is being traded.
In the old days, the state-run TV was one of the key places to stage a coup or to take over power. Nowadays, you have to have Al-Jazeera on your side to change the regime — official stations mean nothing.
Soon, if not already, this will change too. The only way for anyone to change the regime or to keep power is to have the people on his side. While we have a few thousand “journalists” we have today 1.1 million Facebook users who are gradually becoming the real media.