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The Financial Express

The miscarriage of citizen journalism


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Today's alternative media are neither a panacea nor a game-changer. Readers and viewers turned their eyes to social media sites for news and entertainment and the conventional media outlets opened shops there to reach the 'customers'.

Now, the Bangladeshi stakeholders are told that news cannot be broadcast on YouTube, a ubiquitous video platform. Furthermore, the information and broadcasting minister stated last week, newspapers cannot air news bulletins or talk shows online or via YouTube.

This suggests segregation of the print from the electronic media on the worldwide web where they have been actually merged with each other. In that case, ONLINE should have been considered a distinct category, entirely free of written text, video content, audio message, photo etc. used by the old ones!

Globally renowned newspapers broadcast video clips and television channels publish a lot of text-heavy stories. They still maintain their respective legacy.

The suggestion is thus perplexing for media practitioners and consumers alike. Several hundred Twitter accounts have been suspended in the Philippines recently and there are reports of tension over the use of Facebook in the United States.

Some regulatory actions here and there go against public expectations. Some activities are allegedly aimed at manipulating, say, elections. Disputes over platforms may be part of attempts to establish politico-economic hegemony of one party, be it a powerful man or state machinery.

Since social media networks were expected to offer platforms for pursuing journalism by any citizen, people were promised a higher level of freedom and a better governance.

Our less than two decades of social media experience, however, says promises are to be broken and they've been broken very soon!

'Every citizen is a reporter' was the assumption of an editor of Oh my News, a South Korean liberal online newspaper, which runs with an army of up to 50,000 citizen journalists. In 2005, Mr Jean Min further described The New York Times Online edition as a "pipe for news delivery," and Oh my News as "a playground for readers."

Unfortunately, the amateur journalists have mostly taken refuge on the giant platforms operated with completely unknown algorithm, a distortion of Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi.

To its credit, citizen journalism has 'killed' a major portion of the mainstream media and also chosen the path of its own 'silent genocide' committed by varieties of bugs that eat up liberty.

The boom of information technology with global networking could have empowered the citizens; but they have instead lost privacy and freedom to act independently.

Once concerned at possible growth of individuals, the states have managed to capture the techno-power and retained the status of what social thinker Hamza Alavi narrated as 'over-developed states' in the post-colonial world. It is the kind of state in which office bearers believe they can afford to deny the rights of the ones who pay their salary - the taxpayers.

Protesters and opinion leaders are apparently happy, often busy sharing grievances and valuable suggestions that resonate across online platforms but can't bring about significant real-life changes.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton thought the politicians would have to change their approach, thanks to increasing use of social media. During her Bangladesh visit in 2012, she said information of corruption could not be hidden as even an ordinary citizen could easily upload any secret information by using a mobile phone.

Revelations have not proved to be a powerful weapon to stop corrupt practices in a number of countries. Such disclosures may also invite litigation as per Digital Security Act. Julian Assange is facing a court case in the UK over extradition to the US for leaking state secrets.

When the mainstream media failed to report social realities, people started searching for truth on the informal media. When social media entities couldn't deliver authentic information, unlike honest professionals, it's no longer possible for anyone to go back to square one.

So, social media giants still enjoy the luxury of counting individuals as heads without human face, but with robotic attitude, because they know the common man in the current order can hardly think, speak and act to dictate the term.

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