Edited/Distributed by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network --------------------------------------------------------------------- Title: Internet Indispensable in the Media Age By: Ahmad Faiz Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org> TEXT: Internet Indispensable in the Media Age Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman It is often said that we live in an information age, where news from almost every part of the world is accessible with the press of a button. The truth is that we live in a media age where the relaying of information is heavily influenced by the few who have extensive control over the gathering and dissemination of information. This is the product of globalisation of the sort that is heavily influenced by media oligarchies. And the most influential of them being international news agencies like CNN and BBC. Hence, more often than not, current news coverage merely enforces dominant Western viewpoints or ideology. Recall that during the Gulf war, most of the coverage tended to emphasise the moral superiority of the dominant power centres of the West. Yet, many were not truly conscious or even aware of the fact that a quarter of a million Iraqis had been killed as a result of that war. And many more continue to remain ignorant of those who suffer and have died from "Gulf War syndrome" which is caused by exposure to radioactive fallout from depleted uranium weapons used by Western military forces. Likewise, many continue to remain ignorant of the fact that half a million Iraqi children have died because of the UN Security Council s economic sanctions. Such matters do not generally make headline news, if at all they are given any sort of coverage, because they do not jive with the Western powers primary concern which is the destruction of Iraq s weapons of mass destruction. Unless people have access to alternative sources of information - the Internet being one of the most important - world opinion on what is important or relevant would continue to be conditioned largely by media giants and the various individuals or interest groups that control them. Indeed, as far as alternative sources go, it goes almost without saying that the Internet is largely a "free for all" when it comes to information. Through the Internet, alternative or non-mainstream viewpoints have the opportunity of being placed "side by side" or on a par with those forwarded by the various media giants thereby making it more difficult for such media giants to pass off news or comments in an unbalanced and uncritical manner. This is because the people with access to the Internet are no longer passive recipients of news. Seemingly questionable reports or viewpoints would be subjected to critical assessments and debates that have the potential for being truly pluralistic. Of course, that is not to say that something as useful as the Internet is free from hang-ups of its own. So long as its accessibility is determined by one s level of income, its usefulness would be limited to the fraction of those people who have the means for it. This would effectively exclude a large portion of the world s population comprising mostly the peoples of the South. And it would explain why an overwhelming portion of the Internet s online contents is Anglophonic. With that in mind, it can be said that the Internet, like any other media forms dominated by the West, is transmitting mainly the dominant Western worldview. Hence the dilemma for the peoples of the Third World is that insofar as the Internet is an increasingly indispensable tool for participation in the goings-on of the "Global Village" it reinforces the current uni-polar structure of world power. Things like Western-style liberal democracy, free market economy and pop-culture make up much of the "globalisation" process not because they are necessarily good in themselves but because they have been normalised through the daily barrage of the Western dominated media. And electronic dike building by China and Singapore aimed at preventing cultural encroachment by screening out materials that are deemed hazardous to their way of life cannot successfully deter all the negative influences that come with globalisation. Yet, the answer lies, believe it or not, in the Internet itself. Clearly, whole nations cannot withdraw their participation in the affairs of the global village by being purely inward looking or insular without chancing the same fate now faced by poverty-and-famine-struck North Korea, for example. And the non-western peoples need to assert their presence and influence the shaping of world opinion. This is where the Internet comes in. It may not be the most culturally and ideologically neutral media technology but it does allow mainstream and peripheral views to be placed on the same footing. Of course, there is the problem of vicious reporting and rumour mongering over the Internet, which has the potential for getting out of hand. The recent spate over electronic mail that had spread false news of riots in crisis hit Malaysia, causing anxiety among locals, tourists and possibly foreign investors alike, is one such example. However, one should bear in mind that the Internet is like a sword that cuts both ways. It can also be used to develop the sensibilities, understanding, knowledge and critical faculties of people living in a world heavily influenced by media giants that fail to provide objective and accurate information fully. A good example of that failure today would be in regard to the East Asian financial and economic crisis. Media giants of the world certainly had a big hand in building irrational exuberance about business in Asia only to replace it with irrational pessimism soon after, thus exacerbating the crisis. A more horizontal means of information dissemination like the Internet would therefore be indispensable for countering such misleading news. And coupled with the speed with which information travels over the Internet, not only can misleading news be brought in check, the international community can also be galvanised into taking concrete steps towards the betterment of mankind in spite of the media giants. For example, much of the success of the world wide campaigns against the use of landmines and for the establishment of the International Criminal Court can be attributed to high speed communications between non-governmental organisations throughout the world that were the backbone of those campaigns. This is the power of the Internet. ---------------------------------- Send mail for the 'huridocs-tech' list to 'email@example.com'. Mail administrative request to 'firstname.lastname@example.org'. For additional assistance, send mail to: 'email@example.com'. Archives of previous messages posted to the list can be found at: http://www.human-rights.net/huridocs-tech.
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