With the emergence and rapid following of social media representing citizens voices, it is no more that alternative media is following traditional mediaIn 2011, a few days after the fall of Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a Jordanian newspaper published a joke doing the rounds in Egypt: “Why do the Tunisian youth demonstrate in the streets, don’t they have Facebook?” Only six days later, protests across Egypt coordinated by a loose coalition of opposition groups—many of which were organized through Facebook—made history in the north African nation.
If unemployment, poverty and mis-governance were the causes of the mass uprising in Tunisia and Egypt, it is the alternative and citizen media in the recent years that have become the drivers of debate among South Asian democracies. The anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare is one example where social media played a prominent role. Facebook saw half a million people participating in anti-graft discussions and following posts daily during Hazare’s fast in New Delhi. Twitter and other such websites also saw massive response on the same issue. The result of the Anna Hazare movement ended up in having Arvind Kejriwal forming and leading a political party in Delhi.
Every mass movement needs spaces where political alternatives can be debated and organization can take place. For the current generation, some of these spaces have been alternative and citizen-driven media. Interestingly, unlike traditional media, which is represented by print, radio and television, digital media can be divided into various platforms or tools. For example, while Facebook, Twitter and YouTube mostly represent citizen media, alternative voices are mostly using blogs, ezines, Vimeo and Internet radio as platforms to reach out to an wider audience.
In the case of Uttarakhand floods, people resorted to using various social media platforms to circulate pictures and appeals for help. Two months back, Twitter added one more feather in the alternative media tools in Vine, which enables users to create and post short six-second video clips. Similarly, community radio is a powerful alternative media tool. And mobile phones as a connected oral communication tool of the masses is another citizen media tool that is reaching millions even if they are illiterate.
Considering the huge buzz around social, alternative and citizen media we have created a destination at http://citizenmedianetwork.org by the name of Citizen Media Network. Our research shows there are 140 alternative media websites in South Asia. Besides this, there are 34 foreign alternative media that often cover South Asian issues. Also, there are six alternative media websites based out of the region but cover only South Asian issues. The directory at the network has a list of 85 Indian alternative media initiatives, 28 from Pakistan, 13 from Nepal, six from Bangladesh, and three each from the Maldives and Sri Lanka and two from Bhutan. The kind of topics and issues these discuss is different from what traditional media prefers.
For example, TwoCircles.net covers issues affecting Indians, Muslims and international issues. Mobile Vaani and CGNet Swara use forms of IVR (interactive voice response) technologies to bring issues of tribals, panchayats and people below the poverty line. Youth Ki Awaaz is mass online platform for young people to express themselves on contemporary issues. Video Volunteers has been creating video programmes about Dalits, poor and marginalized communities to address poverty, inequality and injustice.
With the emergence and rapid following of social media representing citizens voices, it is no more that alternative media is following traditional media. It’s rather the other way round. Even the ministry of information and broadcasting has proposed setting up a new media wing that will handle its social media accounts through sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Millions are taking to digital media due to its vast scope in terms of time and space. We will soon see that digital media has become prime media, with traditional media keeping up a complementary beat.
Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and curator of the Manthan Award. He is member of the working group for Internet proliferation and governance, ministry of communication and information technology. Follow him on twitter @osamamanzar.