Apr 18, 2012

Evolution of the fourth estate


In the age of new social media technologies we’ve seen the rise of Twitter and Facebook as means of spreading information and ideas. And we’ve seen recent examples of how these sites have elevated stories that would otherwise have gone unreported or even worse, falsely reported by traditional media.  

This has proven to be extremely critical in countries where much of the media (newspaper, radio and television) is controlled by the government; and when the government is deathly silent about a particular subject you’d be hard pressed to find courageous journalists willing to defy orders. This is typically where private media, where it exists, has filled in gaps and now they are steadily being eclipsed by savvy mobile and social web users with their ears to the ground.

This is an opportunity for more than a singular voice to be heard on a wide array of subjects, and to circumvent the collusion of government and state owned media to manipulate and spin stories in their favour. Sadly, I don’t think this new reality is sinking in for everybody or if it is they’re have an awfully difficult time adjusting appropriately.  

I think of how Malawi’s government completely fumbled news of President Mutharika’s death. While verified sources at the hospital said the president was dead, the government was at first mute and then when they spoke, it was one lie after another. As we now know this wasn’t done in the interests of the country and its people to prevent panic or a military takeover, but rather as a means of consolidating power by a handful of thugs.

Ideally all these different parties would complement one another in the pursuit of truth and truly being an effective 4th estate, independent of government interference and holding all people to account. 

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