by Aditya Raj Kaul
Published in 'Media Watch' of The Sunday Indian Magazine and Free Press Journal, Mumbai
In the year 1930, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Civil Disobedience Movement in India against the forced British rule, which ultimately set the base for the final leg of freedom struggle. The Gandhian era wasn’t communication friendly. In those times, messengers had to travel on foot or on a horse across the length and breadth of the country to convey important information. A collective movement in a large country such as India was a mighty task to achieve with primitive means of communication and restricted mode of travel.
Almost eighty years after Gandhi launched Satyagraha through the historic Dandi March, yet another part of the world took inspiration to step ahead towards democracy. Egypt, popularly known as Misre in India fought long time president Hosni Mubarak to gain ultimate freedom, though it didn’t take years of struggle this time. In merely 18 days, Egypt was a nation celebrating fresh democracy. This in spite of the new age weaponry and defence arsenal baggage carried by the thrown away president Mubarak.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the face of the revolution in Egypt in his own words praised Gandhi for helping him bring political transformation to his home nation. "I told protesters about Gandhi and the way he took on the British colonial rulers. Gandhi's non-violent struggle helped us in our journey to freedom," ElBaradei, the noble laureate, was quoted saying in media.
ElBaradei’s technique of non-violence and Gandhian non-cooperation, however, may not have alone led to Egypt taste freedom so early had Wael Ghonim, a young crusader and an expert on internet technology not been in picture. Ghonim, who initiated massive campaign on facebook and twitter has become a symbol for the Egyptian movement.
On Facebook, more than 85,000 people pledged to attend a nationwide anti-government protest planned for January 25th, in Egypt this year.
“This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook. This revolution started [...] in June 2010 when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians started collaborating content. We would post a video on Facebook that would be shared by 60,000 people on their walls within a few hours. I've always said that if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet,” said Ghonim in an internationally televised interview.
All thanks to such instant modes of communication which we call the ‘new media’, the more traditional forms of media have taken a backseat. The TRPs of the various news channels have fallen gradually. On the other hand in the past decade, the newspaper readership has decreased more than 5% which according to experts is a massive shift being seen globally. The ‘internet’ connectivity has been only increasing all this time.
The ‘new media’ has as well contributed an altogether new format of news production being called the ‘Citizen Journalism’. An individual today is merely just a click away from pool of information sharing. Twitter is being seen as the CNN of the west.
New Media expert Jeff Pulver calls this the era of “now” media, fuelled by new and social media and the people who power Twitter and other popular networks. The pursuit of “now” is conditioning us to expect information as it happens, whether it’s accurate or developing.
News media can’t keep pace with the new world of media consumption and the insatiable appetite for information—especially when it has yet to understand the true promise and opportunity that Social Media represents. This isn’t about adapting an existing model to new, popular broadcast channels. It’s about expanding and forcing a fundamental renaissance within the news machine itself—transforming and creating how these media giants can monetize new streams and platforms.
Clearly, as someone just tweeted, “News doesn’t break, it tweets.”
One of the biggest setbacks that the Governments all across the globe today suffer is through the Wikileaks expose by young Julian Assange. The website of the portal defines its objectives clearly as, “WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”
According to the Time Magazine, “Wikileaks could become as important a journalistic tool as a freedom of information act”. It certainly without an inch of doubt brings a paradigm shift in the way news is gathered and thrown open to public without delay in packaging content.
While Wikileaks ethically practices journalism of utmost courage and confidentiality, the response of the Governments all across globe which have been exposed in public is shocking. Assange, faces serious cases of rape in Sweden, while he has been announced an enemy of the state by his home state Australia and even the United States. The United Kingdom on the other hand is planning to extradite him to Sweden to face trial even though the Judge in the Sweden Court trashed the file of cases slapped against him. In the days ahead, it would be important to monitor the further Wikileaks expose and if at all any upcoming global power would be willing to shelter its most wanted founder Julian Aassange.
India, for that matter is still a generation behind other global powers in terms of an online revolution. In the years gone past, virtual campaigns for justice in various cases of murder, rape and even accountability have met successful culmination. These campaigns among which include justice campaigns for slain model Jessica Lall and law student Priyadarshini Mattoo were initiated online in the year 2006 and forced the courts and investigative agencies to act without delay. The same year in April, students from all across India campaigned against the directive of the Government of India to implement further caste based reservations to Other Backward Castes (OBC) in institutions of higher learning and central universities. Interestingly, student community mobilised support online through a petition asking signatures. The then president of India noticing lakhs of signatures invited the representatives of the student community for talks on the reservation policy and promised to request government to re-think the policy.
In the year 2005 after much campaign by activists across India, the Government was forced to enact the Right to Information Act which called for greater transparency in the functioning of the Government. It was a movement of euphoria. All citizens of India could now easily demand and question the Government on any policy or delay in work. This could happen online and the department concerned had to reply within a stipulated time or face penalty. There even have been campaigns over the internet to motivate people to understand the importance of a single vote in the elections. This has proved beneficial to the largest democracy.
All didn’t go positive. The year 2010 saw pro-secession separatist groups in Kashmir using online medium for instigating violent protests against minority communities and India as a whole. The Police had a tough time facing the paid stone pelters and the state was locked down for several months.
However, India still needs a focused online platform to raise awareness against the growing menace of corruption which has crippled the functioning of the state in a non-partisan manner. A platform which unites all the citizens and makes the representatives in the Parliament suffer the cost of indulging in such malpractices. It would still take time as the recent ‘Radia tapes’ tell us the story of our own media bosses who are purchased for a hefty sum to help the interests of a particular lobby. In the days ahead, perhaps, the online medium of communication generates a non-purchasable, non-breakable platform for a newer stronger nation to emerge.