New and Old Media Strengthen Democracy Together
Guobin Yang | Yale Global | June 2009
Recent events in Iran and China have demonstrated the impressive power
of the internet. Iranians used web communication technologies like Twitter to
spread reports and images of their protests worldwide, despite attempts at
government censorship. In China a massive online resistance was formed against
new filter software to be placed in all computers, one which would protect
children form internet pornography, but would also block certain political
sites - not to mention its numerous personal security flaws. These events not
only show the power of the internet as a democratic form of communication,
argues Guobin Yang of Columbia University, but together with established media
they actually strengthen democracy itself.
State intervention online is widespread. It has existed since the spread of the internet 20 years ago, and yet online citizens, or "netizens," have grown ever stronger. What is the cause for this? Whether the protests against the election results in Iran or government encroachment on the freedom of information in China - the actions center on grievances and testify to deep-seated public frustration with the conduct of authoritarian regimes. Protestors' newly acquired power owes its strength to the connection of old and new media. Pictures and messages passed along via Twitter would have never been so widely distributed if the large TV networks had not picked them up and transmitted them to global audiences. The Chinese protests were also covered by reports in the established media. One can argue that mass media could not report so extensively without the constant stream of news from citizens. In reality new media has become part of mainstream media power.
The internet offers the advantage of multiplying a piece of news millions of times over and achieving sustainable reporting. Theoretically, reports could be made on nearly every event worldwide as they happen. The result, effectively, would be a new type of CNN: the Citizen News Network. With the absorption of new media into established media the pressure on groups and governments responsible for the grievances grows. For this reason the Chinese government ultimately abandoned the mandatory installation of the filter software. Though they claimed this was due to its various security failures of the software, perhaps the policy shift was another sign of the power of the internet.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Coping With Digital Revolution: China Offers Green Dam, Iran Faces Neda" published here by Yale Global