ICTs In-Take of the Media
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Originally published in the Commonwealth Ministers Reference Book for 2008 by Henley Media Group, this 4-page brief explores the way in which new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are changing the media landscape. Author Mirta Lourenço traces new developments in each of several specific types of media - e.g., newspapers, television, and radio. The kernel that emerges from her discussion of each "traditional" type of media is that the very definition of what makes news has been challenged, such that the audience has been brought to the foreground and social ownership has been strengthened. In essence, "[p]eople can, if they wish, choose to neglect mainstream media."
The shift enabled by technological convergence - i.e., the combination of different devices, technologies, systems, and telecommunications - has had the following key result, according to Lourenço: "[A] continuous news switch is happening between people and mainstream media. Bloggers can report and expand on matters covered by a media organization, while a news network can report on elements originally posted by individual bloggers..." Digital technology has contributed thus to facilitating mixed news coverage by ordinary people or journalists, who at present may not only be asked to write the text but also to take and provide the relevant picture and even video clip or sound track. That is to say, "people-centred media have been boosted, unmediated, and open-to-all, habitually handling the issues that mainstream media had neglected: people's daily lives in the surroundings they live in." Traditional media has responded by teaming up with new ICTs to help form an overall communication network and multimedia context. For example, radio has moved beyond its boundaries and offers not just audio services, but text and visual ones as well - in part by linking up with other media.
While the changes summarised above and detailed within the article highlight the potential that media transformation may hold for placing people at the centre, Lourenço casts a critical lens. First, to this point, the increased citizen participation garnered by technological converge has generally sparked individual interaction. Yet to truly empower people, media needs to expand into the realm of community-centred interactivity, she argues. "One push in the communal direction", Lourenço observes, "may be the fact that online newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters use gradually more Global Positioning System (GPS) and IT-based mapping systems to regionalize their services. This could help intensify local or community interaction."
Furthermore, she stresses that digitisation can be disempowering, especially for populations who lack the underlying conditions to use it: literacy level, ICT skills, access to the internet, telecom systems, electricity, and so on. Poverty and various other obstacles mean that "ICTs are unequally distributed and their fast development will pose a threat in terms of communication and information gaps - unless these risks are tackled head-on..." One strategy, she suggests, would involve investing in ICTs and applications that have low commercial value but potentially offer great social benefits, e.g., open source software or open content copyright approaches, rich public domains, e-governance, platforms for online dialogue, etc.
One specific development approach analysed here is the role of mobile technologies as media devices. While the mere donation of mobile phones and computers to economically poor people "would maintain the existing commercial model, protecting software production and dissemination, particularly if these offers are tied up to subscription or connectivity provision,...in view of the difficulties with standard Internet connectivity in many countries, the penetration and innovations originating from mobile technologies...have the potential to reduce isolation in remote, unreachable or rural areas, in particular where community media already exist and there is a possibility of linking to wireless computer networks." In short, Lourenço presents the possibility that audio, visual, and text broadcasting through and to mobile devices could make possible both accessing and posting content at a distance, also allowing people to publish content regardless of their writing or reading skills.
The concluding section of the report offers several recommendations. For instance, the author argues that it would behoove policy-makers to understand new media so that, for example, they can appreciate how licensing policies can help secure freedom of expression and universal access to information and knowledge, as well as promote social accountability. She also suggests that support mechanisms be put in place to preserve and develop independent audiovisual productions, so as to promote diversity and pluralism. Finally, Lourenço encourages efforts to foster media literacy so that citizens can use media critically, and to build capacity so that they may create content in the ever-changing media context.
In closing, Lourenço stresses that ICTs have the potential to improve the effectiveness of interactive media for the daily benefit of communities around the world - yet only if evenly distributed and used.