Blogosphere and the Mainstream Media: Any Difference?

May 24, 2011

Blogosphere and the Mainstream Media: Any Difference?

Umapagan Ampikaipakan @

INDEPENDENT journalism has always been considered the last bastion of the free press. With the mass media increasingly conglomerated — each with its social biases and political affiliations — many Malaysians have long given ground and have since sought sanctuary in that fortress, that stronghold, that fastness, that Thermopylae, that Agincourt, that Alamo for a billion souls that is the Internet.

And within that webbed sphere we have those self-proclaimed defenders of free expression, some the Village Voice of a new generation, others merely a subversion in a subculture of wannabes and attention seekers.

Like so many things on the World Wide Web, the blogosphere has evolved tremendously over the last half decade. From an outlet of self-expression into our last best hope for the honest word into media watchdogs and instruments of social and political pressure.

The evolution of the blog has, through Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, led to the further democratisation of journalism. What was once purely sermon is now conversation.

Now we don’t just read the news, we get to share it, comment on it, and if it’s in error, we can venture so far as to correct it. By allowing us control of our history, this new journalism has in essence become an even greater social experience.

It is no longer the purview of an elite few because now anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can break the news as and when it happens.

We live in a state of impending information, where the voice of the individual is paramount. It is an exercise in democracy by its most basic component. It is raw and unedited, and possesses an unpolished authenticity. It is fractured, and therein lies its beauty.

And for a while, it was incredibly exciting. The digital chronicling. The asynchronous colloquy. It could not be ignored. So much so that all of us felt the need to join in the conversation.

Clay Shirky, the swami of all things social and online once said: “So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this — the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.” And he was right. For the most part. Because while the effect of this new movement has been overwhelmingly positive for both the writer, and the wannabe writer, it has left the reader a little worse for wear.

Because what was once a breath of fresh air in both our public and private discourses has long gone stale. The revolution was short-lived and the blogosphere has been reduced to nothing more than the mainstream in microcosm. Much like their old school brethren, there are those blogs that are reliable sources of information, there are those that aren’t, and there are those that just don’t care to be.

The blogosphere has long descended into what Steve Rubel called “The Lazysphere”. Which he defined as a group of bloggers who, rather than create new ideas or pen thoughtful essays, simply glom on to the latest news with another “me too” post.

By holding them to embarrassingly low standards we, the people, have invariably created a monster. We embraced the merchants of misinformation and the purveyors of doom as wholeheartedly as all those reasoned and rational. We gave them credibility by acknowledging them. We fell under their spell so completely that we got carried away.

We began to turn our backs on the mainstream. Why? Initially, it was to seek out an alternative view. We felt that it was something deprived from us for far too long. We felt it an outlet for our frustrations, for our long lost voices. We felt that the more information we had, the better and more informed decisions we could make. We had, for all intents and purposes, rather noble motivations.

The devolution of our intentions, however, happened quickly. We were enticed by the sordid and secret. We exercised the power that came with anonymity. We got lost in our darker desires, our voyeuristic nature, our love of gossip and conspiracy theories.

So much so that we forgot those fundamental rules of being a reader. That we should consider any and all information in the same way, regardless of its source, with pause and contemplation. With reflection. With the proper consideration of all the facts. That we should embrace the credible and reject the incredible. That we should accept all that is accurate and evidenced, adding it to that which we consider knowledge. That we should regard the far-fetched the same way we would an epidemic of aliens fathering babies in the American southwest.

15 thoughts on “Blogosphere and the Mainstream Media: Any Difference?

  1. Not so easy for ruling elites to keep the people fooled and manipulated anymore:

    World in the Throes of a Human Rights Revolution, Says Amnesty
    By Thalif Deen

    UNITED NATIONS, May 13, 2011 (IPS) – The growing demands for democratic reforms spreading across the Middle East and North Africa – along with the dramatic rise of social media networks – have triggered “a human rights revolution on the threshold of a historic change”, says Amnesty International (AI).

    “People are rejecting fear,” as spontaneous political uprisings have ousted repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and authoritarian governments in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have been jolted by mass protests and street battles.

    “Not since the end of the Cold War have so many repressive governments faced such a challenge to their stranglehold on power,” says AI Secretary-General Salil Shetty.

    In its annual global human rights report released Friday, the London-based organisation says courageous people, led largely by youth, are standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and battle tanks.

    This bravery, combined with new technology that is helping activists to outflank and expose government suppression of free speech and peaceful protest, “is sending a signal to repressive governments that their days are numbered”.

    “Now there are whispers of discontent being heard from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe,” says the report, released on the eve of AI’s 50th anniversary, which falls on May 28.

    At the same time, repressive governments in Azerbaijan, China and Iran “are trying to pre-empt any similar revolutions in their countries”.

    The 400-page report provides the state of human rights, and specifically widespread abuses, in some 157 countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia, Myanmar, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe.

    The report singles out the specific restrictions on free speech in at least 89 countries, highlights cases of prisoners of conscience in some 48 countries, documents torture and other ill-treatment in 98 countries, and reports on unfair trials in 54 countries.

    AI also points out the deteriorating country situations worldwide, including a grim picture for activists in Ukraine, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan; spiraling violence in Nigeria; and an escalating crisis posed by Maoist armed insurgencies in central and northeast India.

    Conflicts have also “wreaked havoc” in the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Russia’s North Caucasus, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Somalia, “with civilians often targeted by armed groups and government forces”.

    On the positive side, the report points out the signs of progress, including the steady retreat of the death penalty; some improvements in maternal healthcare, including in Indonesia and Sierra Leone; and the bringing to justice of some of those responsible for human rights crimes under past military regimes in Latin America.

    Information wars

    But the primary theme of the report is the continuing protests in the Middle East and North Africa where there is “a critical battle” underway for control of access to information, means of communication and networking technology such as social media networks that has fuelled a new activism that governments are struggling to control.

    But “as seen in Tunisia and Egypt, government attempts to block internet access or cut mobile phone networks can backfire – but governments are scrambling to regain the initiative or to us this technology against activists,” according to AI.

    Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS the unprecedented opportunity for human rights change in the Middle East comes from the courage and creativity of a newly- energised, newly mobilised civil society across the Arab world and beyond.

    Social media continues to play a part, but it is that of an instrument, not a strategy, she said.

    “Just as the then-cutting edge fax machine played an unprecedented role in the Tiananmen Square protests (in China), cassette tapes in Iran’s anti-Shah movement, and secretly printed and distributed nidat (leaflets) served to mobilise the activists of Palestine’s first intifada, creative young activists took advantage of all the potential of cell phones, Facebook, Twitter accounts and more to build the Arab Spring,” said Bennis.

    But those are tools, and when repressive governments, including in Egypt and Tunisia, clamped down, shutting off the internet, closing cell phone service and turning off Facebook, democracy campaigners shifted seamlessly to the old face-to-face methods of organising.

    “Word was spread through the mosques, in quiet words passed to neighbours and co-workers, written notes appeared. The mobilisations continued,” said Bennis, who has written extensively on Middle East politics and is author of several books, including “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”.

    AI’s Shetty says that powerful governments, which have underestimated the burning desire of people everywhere for freedom and justice, must now back reform rather than sliding back into cynical political support for repression.

    “The true tests of these governments’ integrity will be to support the rebuilding of states that promote human rights but that may not be allies, and their willingness as with Libya to refer the worst perpetrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC) when all other justice avenues fail,” Shetty said.

    He warned that corporations providing internet access, cellular communications and social networking sites and that support digital media and communications need to respect human rights.

    “They must not become the pawns or accomplices of repressive governments who want to stifle expression and spy on their people,” he said.

    Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies told IPS the challenge to human rights in the Middle East today comes not from dictatorial regimes shutting down access to social media but it comes from their refusal to recognise that the Arab Spring, especially but not solely its victories in bringing down dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, has created an entirely new dynamic in the region.

    “The U.S., which for more than half a century scaffolded those dictatorships with money and arms in search of an ultimately elusive stability, is facing an unprecedented challenge to retool U.S. foreign policy in light of these changes,” she pointed out.

    So far, she said, the U.S. record is, charitably, mixed.

    In Egypt, the Barack Obama administration came late to the realisation that the U.S.-backed Hosni Mubarak regime was indeed destined for the dustbin of history, and they scrambled to retool a position that would at least appear to side with the Egyptian people’s overwhelming demand for freedom, democracy and an end to dictatorship.

    They have not, however, reversed longstanding reliance on the Egyptian military.

    The military’s continued receipt of the vast majority of the 1.3 billion dollars in U.S. aid to Egypt is helping to create a serious divide between the new government and the still-empowered military, Bennis declared.

  2. That is why we must read everything on blogosphere and the mainstream media with a lot of skepticism. I do not claim that my blog is perfect, but I do make the effort to be accurate, timely and fair (to the extent that it is humanly possible to bias free), balanced and more importantly responsible. I know I cannot please everyone. But I hope that we can always engage in rational discourse on matters that impact on our country and our lives. This blog is as good as those who participate in it. The quality of this blog, in short, reflects the quality of people it attracts. –Din Merican

  3. “The blogsphere has been reduced to nothing more than the mainstream in microcosm”

    What the writer has overlooked is the crucial element of discernment in those who visit/write blogs. Of course there will be rubbish, lies. distortions, hidden (and not so hidden) agendas and the like, but for the first time in history the ordinary person has access to news that even many of the so-called “free” countries do not care to let citizens know.

    Politicians are rightly a derided lot and blogs will for once give the man in the street full access to what goes on. THE NEWS OF THE WORLD Newspaper in the UK had (in the sixties) the slogan “all life is there”. I have not read it in a very long time so I cannot say if they still believe in that slogan; but one can truly say of the blogs that “all life is there” and this can only be good.
    The NST titled this article : “We deserve the rubbish we read on the Net”. I changed it to a more neutral title that actually reflects what the writer has in mind. –Din Merican
    Read more: We deserve the rubbish we read on the Net

  4. Our government has been taking the rakyat for a ride for too long, and we only read what the government wants us to know in the msm. We cannot deny the fact that with blogsphere, the readers have a wider scope of information, and we will be able to discerne the right from wrong. All governments will not be able to take the people for a ride. The changes have made changes in many countries, especially those government that abuses their power will be exposed.

  5. Dato’, if that the original title and its from NST, then we know the agenda there. It is too influence those who don’t blog ( in the kampungs?), a targeted audience. To try and put them off finding out another side to every story.
    Those in the kampongs don’t read the NST; they read Utusan Malaysia, listen to Radio Malaysia, and watch TV3, TV1 and TV2. They are trying to influence urbanites.–Din Merican

  6. Of course there is a difference between the two – the main stream media is full of lies, deceit , propaganda, religious intolerence etc., whereas the alternative media is more truthful.

    In other words, the main stream media reflects the crooked minds of our political leaders , whereas , the alternative media reflects the REAL LIFE concerns of the people – whatever their colour , race or creed.

  7. This is comparing apples and oranges. Blogs can be created by any Tom, Dick and Harry and we cannot compare these with the NST, The Star, The Sun or Utusan. If you want to compare mainstream and blogosphere, then compare with Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Nut Graph or by intellectuals like Din, Ariff, Tunku Aziz, Lim Kit Siang etc.

  8. What’s really scary and deeply troubling is that the writer, Umapagan Ampikaipakan (?), comes across as intelligent and articulate – and that she is being paid well by UMNO to be a softspoken, reassuring voice on the p.a. system that all is well, there is no rotten regime at the helm, no grotesque lies and cover-ups, no skeletons tumbling out of the closet… please carry on shopping and have a nice millennium, folks! It’s troubling to me, personally, because I find it sad to see bright young minds being co-opted, bought over, recruited by a thoroughly decadent and corrupt system, to serve up nicely gift-wrapped apologies and propaganda for the establishment. Uma, Uma, your soul is worth a trillion times more than UMNO can possibly pay you!
    Antares, the writer is a man and regular contributor to NST. I like his style of writing and subtlety. He has a point of view. But I won’t go so far to brand him as someone paid by UMNO. I have no proof of that.–Din Merican

  9. Yes, well written and insidious. I’d give the writer the benefit of the doubt, if not for the revealed NST title probably written by his editor.

    I prefer go back to the not so long deceased prophet Prof Marshall McLuhan, who coined the idioms: ‘global village’ and ‘the medium is the message’. He was less a scholar of communications than a historian of ‘Consciousness’.

    He looked for pattern recognition amongst the forms of media available – from the phonetic alphabet that released the ancient Greeks from the acoustic spell of tribal societies, to the printed word that allowed for reflection, freeing them from an uncritical and emotionally bound existence. To the present transition to modern electronic media of TV and radio – where everyone watches or listens to simultaneously; and where we can’t tell the actors from the audience.

    Cyberspace is much more than that – it is a ‘place’ that everyone watches everyone else instantaneously. Voyeurism at light speed. In such a virtual world of information overload, a transformation in consciousness occurs. The old linear foundational, historical ‘progress’ is being challenged by an anarchic, unorthodox emotionally charged, charismatic alter-universe that resembles very much the archaic oral traditions and myths before modernity began. It is not the technology, but basic human attributes which has not changed all that much over the eons. A full circle, if you like.

    In it, modern Man is trying to reclaim his very existential nature. We are all much less interested in, or conflicted by, doctrinal or dogmatic assertions and politicization of our souls. All that remains, is for individual liberty and ability to assess, thus discern.

    We must never again let the tyranny of authoritarian dictatorships control our mindset through subtle and not so subtle propaganda. The sooner they realize it, the better.

  10. NST/Berita Harian, Utusan, TV3/7/8/9 are owned and controlled by UMNO, Star is controlled by MCA, Sun is owned by V Tan, four of the Chinese language papers Sin Chew, Nanyang, China Press, and Kwang Min are owned and controlled by BN connected Sarawak tycoon, and the Tamil papers? Controlled by different factions of the MIC.

    Yes Dato’, I always read the various blogs with a lot of skepticism but I would read the MSM with great suspicion if and whenever I read them. Suspicious of their credibility and integrity.

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