“They are trying to confuse the minds of young students.” That’s us, bloggers, the ‘they’. I’m sitting on the plane waiting to roar off into the sky and head back to England after a very interesting Th!nk3 trip to Malaysia. I‘m idly flicking through the The Star newspaper, Malaysia‘s biggest selling daily, with a readership of about 1 million.
I start reading Stephen Then‘s article “Beware ‘political extremists‘” and it gets me thinking about the online journalism conference that I‘ve been participating in amid the luxury and opulence of Kuala Lumpur.
It was a new experience for me, listening to professionals from all over the world discuss their views on journalism, “new media“ as many kept referring to it and of course, blogging. I‘d been struck by how fearful many were about the digital spaces where news is being created, consumed and spread. Much discussion revolved around how the internet was bad for journalism; you can‘t make any money from it was one of the points raised, although tell that to Marianna Huffington or the team from Mashable.
There was also the view that blogging has lower standards then journalism - and this article that I was now reading, quoting Malaysian Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, was saying very similar things to what the journalists and bosses from the main East Asian newspapers had been saying - what a coincidence!
Apparently bloggers and certain websites, who it’s difficult for any government to control, are trying to influence people to have ‘negative views about the government’ - according to journalist Stephen Then. The minister goes on to state, “Bloggers and writers on certain websites tell you 50% truth that is mixed with lies.” I’ve just listened to a conference of journos telling me how they are more driven by presenting fact, reporting both sides and to higher standards and ethics than us bloggers. It’s strange then that in this article there are no examples offered of these lies, no websites or writers advanced as evidence of this online malignance and no individuals sued for libel.
For traditional journalists the internet presents a threat to their livelihoods unless they adapt to the world where the line between producers and consumers is now blurred. For governments with authoritarian tendencies this challenges their ability to control the news agenda.
The last thing that struck me about the article was that the minister, on her trip to Australia and New Zealand, told the students she was addressing to “always double-check with government leaders on the extreme views expressed on the Internet“. In much of Western society, and as someone who spends much of their time opposing government policies, the idea that government communications is where to find the truth is interesting and problematic. In the UK we’ve had years where government communications have been characterised by ‘spin’.
For me, the internet and blogging has to be a good thing for democracy and freedom of expression and thought. Readers can get their news from multiple sources from all over the world before coming to their own conclusions. Ordinary people can also express their views and get involved in debate in ways that were impossible ten years ago.
Sure, there will be bad writers and people promoting certain view points. However, I can’t see how that’s different to what has happened for hundreds of years. The internet is new(ish) and it does present challenges to readers, producers, journalists, companies and governments but is that fundamentally different to the challenges that have always been there - no matter what medium has been used to generate and communicate what is happening in the world?
Everyone can now have a voice, something that we should cherish. Although I do agree with the minister that this can often be confusing - but that is surely better than having a system where only certain people and groups can generate news and steer discussion.
Read more about the Th!nk3 trip to Malaysia