KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC – Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in St, Vincent and the Grenadines, Colin Williams, Wednesday warned that the internet provides the opportunity for persons to abuse the power of the media.
Delivering the feature address at the two-day Caribbean Media and Communication Conference, Williams said that the un-bridled power that the internet places at the disposal of persons is one easily susceptible to abuse.
“There is no real obligation on persons to be accurate, fair, balanced, thorough or indeed even truthful,” he told journalists and media workers from the English speaking Caribbean attending the conference organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO), the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM).
Williams, speaking on the topic, “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”, said the fact of the matter is that it is so easy for false, inaccurate and misleading information to be published and circulated on the internet.
“We have also seen the irresponsible and illegal practices of persons, all in a quest to satisfy the yearning of those engaged in the social media. For example, as unbelievable as this may sound, as contemptuous as it may appear, there was a situation where a lawyer, of all persons, took photographs in a court room and posted them on Facebook.
“This demonstrates how irresponsible some persons conduct themselves. But there are those who would condone such conduct, by dressing it in the fig leaf of “freedom of expression”.
Williams, a former journalist and media owner, said the absence of any proper system for monitoring provides not just a platform for freedom of expression and democratic governance, but a real possibility for injustice and anarchy.
“The question must therefore be asked: what can the old media do? Indeed, what are the opportunities that are provided by the internet and digital platforms for traditional journalism?”
He said he was confident that while the pessimists were getting ready to sound the death knell of newspapers, they would be proven wrong.
“Despite the attractions and appeal of the social media, I believe that persons still would go to known, trusted, reliable sources for verification – even if not for initial information,” he said, adding that many media managers have already addressed their minds to their viability and sustainability in the face of the challenges from the new media.
“ Because the social media not only provide an alternative source for information, but could challenge the economic viability of media houses by undermining their life-blood – that is, providing alternative forms of advertising, which is far more direct and targeted than the present mass media can provide.
“The new media of course will have a particular attraction and appeal for the younger—and one may well say modern—generation. I believe that we can accept that the youth generally would be more technologically savvy and would tend to access the modern media and embrace it more quickly than persons who are older.”
Williams said that media owners and managers would therefore have to reconfigure their formats to appeal to, attract and retain the younger persons in particular.
“This of necessity would require that the traditional media adopt and include the many positives that the Twenty-First Century media offer. It is clear therefore that the new frontiers and new barriers from the Twenty-First Century Media must give way to new possibilities and new allegiances.
“The potential of and possibilities thrown up by the new media will have to be embraced and incorporated in the formats of the more established media.
“Fortunately, this battle is not one with the Darwinian principle of “survival of the fittest.” This is not an internecine media fight. Rather, the common enemy is ignorance, backward dictatorial trends and underdevelopment. The goals of freedom and responsibility of expression, democratic governance and sustainable development are things to which we can all subscribe, even the dinosaurs,” Williams said.
He told the conference that it is difficult to contemplate and imagine how persons managed to live without Facebook and Twitter or more generally without the internet, adding “there are those who may go to church without their Holy Bible or a hymn book; but they would definitely not forget their Blackberry at home. Such is life in the Twenty-First Century”.
But Williams said that while the internet along with the massive growth and expansion of technology has opened up new horizons, the absence of trained, qualified and knowledgeable hosts is compounded by the fact that the cheap operating structures of radio stations for example “means persons get on air immediately and directly and there is no delay system.
“At first glance therefore, it would appear as though the authority and responsibility of editors and reporters are under significant and substantial threat!
“Anyone can become a reporter. All that is needed is access to the internet. An untrained and uninitiated person can easily transmit information and reach as many persons in a way that was once reserved for those possessing the elaborate infrastructure to do so.
“To take it to its apparent logical conclusion: No longer are persons going to be dependent on reporters and journalists and reputable sources for their information, because they would be able to access the same information through their social media, through the network they are linked into.”
Williams said that if the scenario is correct “then this paints a gloomy picture for the future of the old or traditional media.
He said the recent events in North Eastern Africa and the Middle East have been credited to and attributed to the power of the internet.
But he argued that it would be wrong to presume or assert that because the social media served a particular purpose in the environment of some countries, that it would have the same, identical impact the world over.
“One must also pay attention to what I believe the social scientists would call “the objective conditions” of the particular society.
“The fact that needs to be reiterated is that freedom of expression and democratic governance and by extension sustainable development are not the result of the existence of the internet and the new media. They are not created by the technology. Rather the media facilitate freedom of expression and democratic governance.”
But Williams said that the argument can also be advanced that the traditional media itself is not staffed by qualified and competent personnel, that in fact there are no requirements, no basic standards that have been established for entry into the profession.
“One may well say: those masquerading as journalists are no better trained or qualified than the itinerant busybody with a digital camera, computer and internet connection, so the modern media could easily displaced the traditional media,” Williams said.
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