By James Ratemo, in Berlin, Germany.
Today I attended an International conference on ‘Politics:Harnessing the power of new media’ organised by Inwent and Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung, and the interaction with great minds from across the globe was enlightening.
It emerges that politics has been invaded by technology and seemingly it will never be business as usual.
As Prof Harry Dugmore, one of the keynote speakers from South Africa put it, In Africa more people now have access to mobile phones than they have access to networked computers.
With the mobile phones, the masses have been empowered to share information during campaigns and even monitor the elections, leaving minimal chances for politicians to rig elections.
“Technology will allow people in Africa to leapfrog so that they can catch up with the world without all those stages of development,” said Dugmore, adding that by June 2009, people using cell phones would outstrip those using internet.”
Nancy Scola, an associate editor of Tech President, the awrd winning online publication, revealed extensively how Us President Barrack Obama utilised the Internet to win the elections.
In her presentation dubbed “Ballot casters to collaborators”, she demystified the Obama campaign illustrating how he used the Internet motto of “don’t wait for people to come to you, go where people are”, to win the election.
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Other experts and attendants seemed to agree that the new media trend is irreversible and nations need to tap on its potential to enhance democracy and empower masses.
However, there are still concerns on the extent to which media houses can trust citizenry reports especially during campaigns and elections.
“Despite the growth of citizen journalism, we still need professional journalists to put issues into perspectives and countercheck on reports citizens blog about,” argued Dele Olojede, a pulitzer prize winner from Nigeria.
Olojede, who is also a CEO of Timbuktu Media, Nigeria, argued that new media can empower citizens but in the case of Nigeria and Africa as a whole, there is a need to educate the people first.
“Unlike in the US, where new media was used extensively in the 2008 elections, the situation in the developing world is certainly different in that, the impact is not that high since traditional or conventional media still holds sway,” he said.
The Indian example
He gave the example of India where in 2006 alone 6,000 newspapers were launched. He contrasted this trend to that in North America, where printed newspapers were folding at an alarming rate.
The case of Kenya’s violence after the 2007 General Elections was replayed. Kenya stands as a perfect example of how politicians can misuse the internet and mobile phones into igniting people to violence. Read more on this here
“Communication through the Internet must be counterchecked to ensure credibility…journalists are still key in providing objective and tested information but they should embrace new modes of disbursing the information,” argued Scola.
Prof Faizulla Jan, a lecturer from Pakistan said the media has drastically evolved and affecting way politicians handle campaigns.
“The media can be hydra-headed in critical times, in a way that when it is killed in one place, it springs up in another, the case of Pakistan is typical of this,” argued Jan.
Jan said the broadcast laws were clearly rendered useless when an Opposition politician, apparently under house arrest, addressed his followers by giving a speech through his mobile phone, the receiving cellphone was plugged into a megaphone and the message was broadcast to listening crowds. Amazing how censorship can be countered by technology!
Premesh Chandran, CEO of Malaysiakini, provided more examples to demonstrate how new media has opened up the democratic space. In Malaysia, he said, political videos were put into VCDs and distributed to supporters, to be watched at their convenience, cutting out the need for politicians to seek out supporters.
Careers made on the Internet
He argued that to date, political careers are made on the Internet, in that, although only with limited following, those considered to be Internet-savvy are regarded highly by the opinion shapers and the movers and shakers of society. And it is this group that influences the politics in the country.
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