12 December 2003


Speakers Note That New Ways of Acquiring

Information Have Important Political Implications

(Reissued as received.)

GENEVA, 11 December -- A round table entitled “Setting the world agenda” was held yesterday as part of the World Electronic Media Forum (WEMF).  Moderator Nik Gowing of BBC World kicked off a discussion on challenges to the media posed by new actors in the information age, noting that new technologies had altered the political and social landscape because individuals were empowered to communicate as never before.  A two-part discussion examined the new challenges to the information landscape and also to the mainstream media.

Participants in the first panel were as follows:  Javed Jabbar, former Information Minister of Pakistan; Luis Ajenjo, of Compania Chilena de Comunicaciones; Sidiki N’fa Konaté, Director General of RTV, Mali; and Carlo Nardello, RAI (Italy).  The second panel comprised Robert Rabonovitch, Director-General, CBC (Canada); Danny Schechter, Executive Director, Mediachannel.org; and Dominique Wolton, sociologist.

Mr. Gowing said that a new generation of information “doers” had emerged.  Digital cameras and mobile phones could receive and transmit images instantaneously. Laptops could replace the traditional five-person coverage team in a truck. Television news could be available in real time on mobile phones. The plethora of information and ease of transmission was a real threat to established media. The famous “Baghdad blogger” gave real time information of life under Saddam Hussein.  Citizens captured images of United States forces intimidating Iraqis when individual cameras seemed to threaten military operations.  A tourist had broadcast the scene in Bali after the terrorist bombing in 2002 before media representatives could get there. Technology was creating new political relationships, he stated.

Ultimately, new technologies provided the capacity to bear witness.  One could take a moral stand here in Geneva, but in a war zone, this could be a threat and the tensions were clear. The challenge for the media was to get the message right.

Nitin Desai, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), said that the new ways of acquiring information had important political implications.  Civil society had been immeasurably empowered to act and even overthrow regimes, be it under Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, students in the Philippines or activists pushing for the Mine Ban Treaty by SMS.

Low-cost entry technology would eventually bridge the digital divide and enable citizens to connect with citizens.  The power of the image was overtaking the power of the written word and Internet communication would proliferate.  Regarding access, Mr. Desai believed that there was more equality of access to the new media than the old media.  The new technologies had created a “media of insurgency”, including political insurgency.  As for the consumer, these developments would prove to be beneficial.

Danny Schechter, an independent journalist and author of “Embedded: weapons of mass deception”, said that the media itself had become an issue.  Independent journalists could not break the media stranglehold.  His Web site Mediachannel.org was an effort to gather non-mainstream views and challenge accepted standards.

Dominique Wolton, a sociologist at the French Research Centre CNRS, said that the plethora of information had led to anarchy.  Abundance should not be confused with professional and ethical standards.  The technical aspect was easy to master; political vision, however, could not be so readily grasped.  The United States with its massive media and technological superiority had failed to understand the underlying political dynamics that had caused the tragedy of 11 September 2001.  He concluded that the divide was not so much digital as political.

Javed Jabbar, the former Information Minister of Pakistan, stressed that civil society needed to hold the media accountable and a new “civil media society” was required.  Sidki N’fa  Konaté, Director General of RTV, Mali, highlighted that traditional societies were threatened by a homogenization of global culture and advocated the use of new technology for cultural enrichment.

Opinions were also expressed by ZDF German TV on the over sentimental presentation of facts in a culture of entertainment.

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