Our blinkered media

Heather Ford published a post two days ago about Carte Blanche’s coverage of Wikipedia during Jimmy Wales’ recent visit to South Africa. She makes a number of good points about power relations as reflected in our media and the way our mainstream media reports stories in such a way as to reinforce those inequities (apologies to Heather if I am butchering her arguments). Mostly I agree that our mainstream media present a very one sided view of various aspects of new media and I believe they do it either because they don’t understand the new paradigms they represent or because it makes for better news if they present a slanted view.

I saw this bias and misunderstanding in the recent Rights and Recourse story about whether blogs should be regulated. The producers had the good sense to have Vincent Maher on the panel and I am still unsure why the only other panel member was the MD (or CEO?) of Dial-a-Nerd (or something like that) when many of the issues being discussed were legal issues pertaining to defamation and freedom of expression. I watched, dumbfounded, as the interviewer led the discussion towards reasons why bloggers should be “regulated” (I prefer the term “censored”) and how this could be accomplished. Granted the audio on my recording of the segment vanished shortly afterwards so it is possible the panel also discussed the importance of the freedom of expression and how not censoring bloggers is more important to the protection of the right to freedom of expression is than censorship is to the protection of the reputations and dignity of those who are maligned by bloggers like the now infamous rentboy who allegedly “entertained” certain local personalities. If this discussion ensued then please let me know otherwise please excuse me for continuing my rant against the media.

The problem with mainstream coverage of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales and blogging is that the media tends to focus their pieces on what they can see with their cynical and blinkered eyes. Yes, there are bad people out there on the Web and those bad people have a pretty powerful soapbox (mainly because this sort of sensationalism attracts an audience) but the fact that these people can speak and be heard says more about our respect for freedom of expression and opinion because we create an environment where people can pretty much speak freely and be heard. And yes, if bloggers go too far there is recourse in our existing law to deal with them and even if the current law is inadequate, our Constitution mandates that the law be developed to adequately deal with these sorts of issues. As Heather put it:

And so, like many of the stories about the Internet that we see reported on by our mainstream media, the way that this story was framed is exactly about reinforcing existing power relations in a way that denigrates and disempowers the incredible democratising power of initiatives like Wikipedia in this country. This does complete injustice to the incredible work going on locally to build active citizens of a new media that defies individual supremacy over the combined efforts of communities.

It’s disappointing. I guess I’m disappointed mostly because if Carte Blanche – with a (albeit depleting) brand of criticism and alternative viewpoints – can’t grapple with the future in a critical, knowledgeable way, then who will?

(Disclosure: I am a volunteer at Creative Commons SA and iCommons and I therefore technically work for/with Heather)

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