This debate, organised by the Media Diversity Institute, on the impact of digital media* on social inclusion and the portrayal of diversity, was held in London on 30 September 2009.
It addressed questions such as: What are the possibilities and challenges presented by digital media for social inclusion? Does it provide increased access for those ostracised by traditional media, or is it just contributing to the ghettoisation of communities already marginalised by mainstream media?
This topical debate brought together domestic and international perspectives, with participants from Europe, Russia, Egypt and Indonesia.
The Panelists included:
Ben Hammersley (UK), Editor at Large, Wired magazine.
Vicky Reeves (UK), MD Chameleon Net & Best Women in Technology Award Winner.
Grigory Shvedov (Russia), Editor-in-Chief, Caucasian Knot online magazine.
Wael Abbas (Egypt), Journalist, Blogger and Human Rights Activist.
Ignatius Haryanto (Indonesia), Director, Institute for Press & Development Studies [Note: it was planned for Ignatius to participate online via skype. Unfortunately, however, due to the earthquake in Indonesia that day, the connection was too unstable for him to participate fully]
The debate was filmed and is available to watch online (in ten parts):
Introduction: Milica Pesic, MDI Executive Director, gives an introduction to MDI, and explains the evolution of the term ‘diversity’, MDI’s first steps and how terminology in relation to diversity developed from referring only to ethnic minorities in the beginning, to a whole range of different types of diversity today.
Part 1: Vicky Reeves, MD Chameleon Net, explains her work helping NGOs get their message across and in using online social media. Ben Hammersley, Editor-at-Large of Wired magazine, explains how digital technology provides a wide range of people with the means for media production and distribution. In his opinion, this allows diversity of opinion, facilitated by equal opportunities media technologies available to ‘most of us’.
Part 2: Egyptian journalist, blogger and human rights activist, Wael Abbas elaborates how the purpose of his blog is to raise awareness among young Egyptians: awareness about their political and human rights, freedom of expression and the situation in the Egypt. He also explained the first positive effects among womens’ and homosexual groups in Egypt who started using blogs to raise awareness about their problems.
Part 3: Moderator Joy Francis, MD of the Creative Collective, asks Grigory Shvedov, Editor-in-Chief of the website Caucasian Knot, to present his experiences. Shvedov claims blogs in the Caucasus region give a voice to the local population, often neglected by the official Russian media. He argues that digital media allow the story to be told from the perspective of the local population, rather than just from the point of view of journalists, who live in war affected regions for just a few days.
Part 4: Moderator Joy Francis shares interesting observations about bloggers in Ramallah, and Vicky Reeves talks about mobile phones and citizen journalism. Joy Francis warns that wider accessibility of media technologies means more people with less journalistic skills are involved in the media. Ben Hammersley talks about the potential of broadband and the need not to talk only about the fact that 30 percent of the population in Britain does not have broadband, but the opposite – that 70 percent does have it, and needs to be motivated to engage with media. Wael Abbas explains Egypt’s population is 80 million, out of which 55 million have mobile phones. The number of bloggers is estimated at 200,000. According to Abbas, many blog from internet caffes, since they do not own a computer. Still, videos of torture or election rigging spread very fast via mobile phones, once they’ve been downloaded in affordable internet cafes.
Part 5: Ben Hammersley talks about the rising value of true reporting – opinion based blogs mean the value of opinion is falling, since anyone can post them, while true reporting should actually provide the facts on which blogs will be based. Vicky Reeves talks about the popularization of websites through expanded use of the internet via increased mobility thanks to mobile phones. Grigory Shvedov explains how governments can limit accessibility of the internet and censor websites. The clip contains several interventions from the audience about the role of mobile phones. Someone from the BBC World Service Trust asks about the role of mobile telephones in development projects, stating that in many countries they are used to communicate basic life skills and even English language lessons.
Part 6: With regards to the question of the role of mobile phones in reporting, Grigory Shvedov explains how the most problematic areas, those where an independent media presence is most important, have the worst technical facilities. In underdeveloped areas, the speed of the internet is very limited, so it is the role of charities, NGOs and websites such as Caucasian Knot, to enable people to act as citizen journalists, using their mobile phones to share and spread their footage. Ben Hammersley talks about political activism; Lesley Abdela, from Shevolution, on the exclusion of older people from new technologies; Wael Abbas on his experience as a trainer for media activists; and Vicky Reeves on changes in modes of fundraising.
Part 7: Ben Hammersley explains how the internet gathers, joins and caters for almost any imaginable like-minded groups. And also about how the mainstream media is turning bloggers into stars. The impression created by some media in Russia that “Chechen means terrorist” must be changed, claims Grigory Shvedov. Wael Abbas explains how many things are not fair or accurate on the internet, such as extremists’ sites, but no one will ever be able to change that if we believe in freedom of expression. The only thing that can be done is to oppose biased and inaccurate content, by producing good quality content and make it attractive and accessible on the internet.
Part 8: Participants discuss whether the internet has become only a community of various like-minded groups who engage like-minded individuals, without a wider forum for general dialogue. Joy Francis suggests one of the issues should be the way responses are moderated on websites. Ben Hammersley argues technology is value free, and the internet is not meant either to split or unite people, but to simply reflect what happens and what people think. One should be careful about nostalgia for massive collective action. Wael Abbas argues one should distinguish state sponsored collective action from free individuals getting together. Vicky Reeves calls for new ways of reaching audiences through the internet.
Part 9: Ben Hammersley argues online social networking sites such as facebook or myspace are both tools and extensions of existing social networks. And also about the differences in background and ethnic origin of the users of different social networking sites. Vicky Reeves explains how Google is only a representation of the internet, not the internet itself, since there are a lot of other things online, which google does not find. Grigory Shvedov says social networks and comments on websites often provide very interesting additional information. The Caucasian Knot is interested in this type of usage of new technologies, i.e. engaging witnesses of certain events to provide additional information and new perspectives, rather than just relying on the official line. Milica Pesic, MDI Executive Director, thanks all the speakers, participants and the MDI team and concludes the event.
The Media Diversity Institute acknowledges the support of the Open Society Media Program in making the debate possible.
*Digital media (as opposed to analog media) usually refers to electronic media that works on digital codes such the internet, mobile technology, digital TV, video and radio, and many forms of interactive media from e-learning to Twitter.