Translated by Hisham from إعلام المواطن أو السلطة الخامسة
Authoritarian regimes used to monopolize information and mold it to suit their narrow interests, not allowing any challenging or contradicting point of you to be heard. By doing so they were making their people oblivious to any information that is clear and readily available. These countries continue to impose pressure on dissenting voices who are having a hard time making their messages and opinions through and communicating with the rest of the population without constraints and harassment from the authorities. A society can only be described as free and living under a democratic rule when information can be obtained freely and adequately. With the advent and spread of the Internet in various parts of the world a lot of people breathe a sigh of relief. Internet is giving them the opportunity to access information very easily, very fast and without control from repressive authorities. This freedom prompted a process of emancipation from the restrictions previously imposed on people who now start publishing their opinions and concerns. Information is no longer under the control of lobbies who are usually keen to own everything and to maintain their personal interests and privileges. It is now owned by individuals who are active in several open forums designed to allow ideas to be expressed on blogs and social networking websites.
The specific nature of these online platforms makes them very valuable for many individuals around the world, be them poor or rich, from developed or less developed parts of the world. We have reached a point now where the world looks really like a small village that embraces all races regardless of their languages, origins or religions. The role played by citizen media has proven to be important for a number of reasons. First, given the intricate relations between the mainstream media and governments or economic lobbies, its credibility in the eyes of those seeking the truth and nothing but the truth, has literally vanished. In addition online platforms have been offering a space for interactivity unseen elsewhere, allowing wider connections and exchanges of views. Another reason is the fact that most of the citizen media platforms are animated by the same active young people who, in non-democratic countries, are often marginalized and kept away from the decision-making process and rarely consulted in the conduct of public affairs. This also makes citizen media particularly attractive for some news outlets.
The growing impact of citizen media is undeniable and signals a great and brighter future. The impact on individuals will be positive if what is published is constructive, responsible and respectful of the highest human values that are often ignored, and if the information is used to heal the ills of humanity and achieve a world of understanding, peace, harmony, freedom and true democracy; something that the online community must keep in mind. The impact may also be negative if the message isn’t kept as high and commendable as possible. I’m pretty sure there are hidden hands and lobbies in various countries anxious to preserve their interests, who seek to diminish that impact. We have witnessed the effect of citizen media on decision-makers in different parts of the world. Activists were able to win the battle in many legitimate battles. This has made some describe citizen media as a fifth authority that can impose its agenda on traditional powers. One example of this is the influence the internet is having on electors or in helping raise awareness during elections taking place in democratic countries. Citizen media also contributes to the efforts of lifting the veil of marginalization off many areas that still suffer from poverty and exclusion due to the failed policies of some states, making those cases available and widely publicized, putting the pressure on decision-makers and forcing them to act. Citizen media is also playing a major role in the campaigns of solidarity with politicians, journalists, lawyers and bloggers who are prosecuted because of their opposition.
Ultimately online activism and citizen media play an indisputable role in protecting public’s rights and individual freedoms, especially in communities living under authoritarian regimes. I will conclude by saying that citizen media is having a significant and positive impact in the process of building democracy. Its role in shaping public opinion can no longer be ignored.