Nagasvare D/O M. Krishnasamy, Malaysia
Mass media plays a crucial role in connecting the world of individuals. It has the ability to reach wide audiences with strong and influential messages which impact upon society. Television and Radio have been influential on people’s daily lives and routines, affecting the content and times that audiences watch and listen. The mass media has at least three important roles to play: to inform, to educate and to influence opinion. These distinctive features of traditional media have been challenged by new media, which is changing the participation habits of the audiences.
Radio broadcasting services were introduced in Malaysia in the thirties while television services started in 1963. In the early days, people gathered around the radio set in the evening to listen to popular network programmes. When television finally became a living room reality, people sat around TV sets watching their favourite shows. In 1969, both radio and television were grouped under the Ministry of Information. The pace of development quickened, and it was then that round the clock radio services in various languages started.
Mass media enables people to participate in events and interact with communities over long distance. One needs only to think of democratic elections, World Cup soccer and royal weddings to appreciate the intensity with which people can share in these events. TV, radio and newspapers bring the outside world into our homes. The broadcast times of programmes set the routine of life within homes. Their content provides viewers and listeners with something to talk about for days. Traditional media has served as a companion as well as an important source of information for the audience.
All these worked until a decade ago when new media emerged with all the fanfare of technological innovation.
This should be the golden age for new media. We have the technology. We have the professionals to deliver high quality services. We have a great hunger among people for reliable, timely and useful information. Welcome to the digital and internet revolution!
As confidence in the media grows, a crisis is creeping up on one side …… In the push for more channels and choices, market models have been depressingly uniform. As a result, local content suffers, and cultural values are weakened in the process.
It is little surprise then that there is a growing debate about how to put quality back into traditional media and curb the influence of the increasingly powerful elite. The argument is that the media market itself cannot protect pluralism and diversity, and people need information services outside the market.
Now, fast developing technology is fuelling an information revolution. The new media, digital broadcasting and the internet are sweeping away the limitations of the analogue world and weakening the grip of government-owned platforms. The nature of the relationship between the broadcaster and its audience is changing. New media in this information age provides an immediate, informative, intelligent, interactive platform for discussion and debate.
New media is essentially a cyber culture with modern computer technology, digital data controlled by software and the latest fast developing communication technology. Most technologies described as “new media” are digital, and often have characteristics of being networkable, dense, compressible, interactive and impartial. Examples are the internet, websites, computer multimedia, games, CD-ROMs and DVDs. Young people are attracted to the easy means of getting information with internet based terminals or hand phones which provide them information of their choice anytime, anywhere. They need not have to wait for any broadcasting schedule to be connected to get the information.
Internet blogs, news portals and online news, Facebook, You Tube, podcast and webcast, and even the short messaging system (SMS), are all new media. The modern revolution enables everybody to become a journalist at little cost and with global reach. Nothing like this has ever been possible before. The impact of new media was noticed by the Malaysian government which lost its two thirds majority in Parliament during the 2008 general elections. The government then depended on the mainstream media which it controlled to give information to the electorate while the opposition used new media which was faster, cheaper and reached a bigger audience. Ironically it was the government which spent billions of ringgit to foster the growth of new technology.
“It is no secret that I believe the new media plays an important role in our political and civic future.” This was a comment made by Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak, as reported by Bernama News in 2009. What we are witnessing today is the emergence of a global culture in which information and access to information will be the factor that determines which way power and prosperity will go. It is a global system that transcends national borders and institutions and allows people to gain knowledge at the press of a few buttons (on their computers of course).
The emergence of blog streams is a reflection on society’s awareness of the importance of information dissemination. Unfortunately this ‘leeway’ has provided room for manipulation by irresponsible users. Such a situation gives rise to a poser. The trials and tribulations created by new media have impacted on society and nation. Repercussions are reflected in people’s thinking.
Prof Madhya Dr Abu Hassan Hasbullah of Media Studies in the University of Malaysia says that new media is like a ‘new trust’ that traverses all boundaries of politics, economy and religion. “It is embraced by almost all of the people in the world,” he told Bernama news on 10 October 2009. New media wields great influence over the younger generation as they are IT-savvy and have an ‘urge to know’. There are concerns among the authorities that parties with vested interests would manipulate this new media to further their purportedly “subversive” objectives. In Malaysia, where the population is multi-ethnic and multi-religious, the challenges posed by new media seem to be getting more critical.
MEDIA AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
A responsibility of the media is to ensure fair, accurate and impartial reporting. A set of codes of ethics is essential to maintaining standards for media professionals and organizations. Everyone in the organization should uphold the standard with a sense of responsibility, equality and accountability. Information ethics is not just a matter of written values for the broadcasters, it must be practiced in their day to day operation.
In Malaysia, there is no screening for new media which is based on the internet. People are free to access whatever information they want, apart from airing their views online via blogs and portals, which is covered by the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. Among provisions of the Act are Sections 211 and 233 that bar all forms of obscene comments, views and suggestions as well as threats which harm, dishonor or bring disrepute to others.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOGGERS
Blogging in Malaysia fills a perceived void in the domestic media. Content and credibility are important for the bloggers, who have created large followings because people find them believable. With blogging, everything is on the record. Bloggers do not sit in dark basements. Many have ties to the press, or they may be journalists in their own right; some may even be politicians. Bloggers are influential, whether we like it or not, and they wield power and influence.
The emergence of this new media is closely linked to the younger generation. A recent study revealed that a young group spent 16 hours a week to surf the internet, sometimes unnoticed by their parents. Another survey showed that only 23 percent of readers believed in comments in blogs. It would be wise for the younger generation to be selective with what is being offered on the internet.
COLLABORATING FOR SUCCESS
Government media should expand collaboration with new media. The relationship should be based on mutual respect, equality, trust and a win-win approach. Messages need to be consistent and cohesive. Working online also requires keen communication skills.
Content on ministerial websites should strive to meet the needs of the people. For a multi-lingual society, the language selector should be prominently displayed. Top news should be front and center, and any emergency information (e.g. H1N1, food safety issues, etc) should be prominent with simple steps for citizens to follow. Ideally there should be “widgets” for bloggers to use and Twitter feeds for critical issues.
Online radio and television, grabbing the ears and eyes of netizens, have the potential to become viable alternatives to on-air broadcasting. The reach of broadcasting stations is limited by signal range, whereas online broadcasting is available wherever internet coverage is available. There are no boundaries.
Traditional broadcast media has been free. Then pay television came along to alter the model by introducing narrowcasting to paying customers. The internet has taken narrowcasting a step further by targeting small groups and individuals. Television networks are now keen to establish websites to help offset audience loss.
Online media are having a difficult time differentiating themselves from their competitors. Given this, media sites are turning to brand awareness to motivate audiences to select one site over another. Yahoo and Google are working together with established news agencies to provide news and information to their users. Branding with reputable agencies helps promote an image of credibility and trust. On the downside, local content for the local audience is often consigned to take a back seat.
Seeking the counsel of constituents to monitor news on key issues, asking for and responding to feedbacks on websites and conducting polls for action all make for better communication. As governments listen and take action on matters of concern to citizens, they should share the successes to enhance their relationship with the people.
MAKING CONTENT PORTABLE
Every government agency should show respect for online communication. All major communication should be shared online even though it duplicates what is in the press. The idea is to communicate consistently, share information across ministries and offer cohesive responses.
To provide interactive content on portals, it should be considered whether the content could be used in video, shared in photos, or adapted into a widget. The next step is to develop a list of interested parties and send material to them. Social features like news should have RSS feeds. Each and every ministry should have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and You Tube channels for effective interaction.
Measurable indicators like website visits could be used to gauge effectiveness. Other indicators are blog coverage – increasing or decreasing volume, and the tone of comments. Then there are Twitter and Facebook followers, numbers signed up to receive ongoing communication, RSS subscribers, etc.
THE CHANGING MEDIA ENVIRONMENT
The changes in media communication in the world and the region have had ripple effects in Malaysia. Prominent news outlets like the CNN, Astro, Malaysiakini, Jakarta Post, Aljazeera, Channel News Asia, South China Morning Post, Economist, Business Times Singapore, etc. are all operating their own portals in competition with the local press.
The media environment is changing according to the needs of citizens. The fundamental changes are that the individuals want a ‘voice”, and citizens demand accountability. All these underline the need for governments to communicate clearly and consistently on a timely basis, and to reach out to stakeholders. It also makes it imperative for new technology and techniques to be effectively used.
Broadband internet platforms with 24/7 exposure are creating citizen journalists so that anyone can produce news, breaking free the strangle-hold of institutional news organizations, and influencing debates. People do not need to rely solely on traditional media. Example: in the March 2008 elections, the delay in reporting results through the public media was a source of widespread disappointment.
Enhanced capacity building through training and workshops will upgrade the expertise of professionals in RTM. Professionalism in the station plays a major role in combating outside influences. Also, consideration should be given to employing outside expertise who are known to be proactive.
East is east and west is west. However, the two do meet. Broadcasters from different media and cultural backgrounds can work and grow together. RTM Broadcasting will have more success in achieving its goals if it offers more opportunities for new media to expand. Collaboration in policy and programme-making, capacity building, and harnessing technology advances will all benefit the broadcasting sector.
Old is gold. But that does not mean that new changes should be overlooked or even cast aside. It will be beneficial for RTM to tap ways to respond to the global financial crisis and changes in demand, so as to enhance its role in society. It needs to expand broadcast coverage, improve its services to the public, increase output in new media, reduce reliance on advertisement, and provide funding with favorable policies to small and medium sized programme producers.
The potential for increasing reach to users worldwide must be explored and exploited. At the same time, support must be given to local content producers. Market research should also be diversified (at the moment, one company, AC Nielsen, has the monopoly on ratings research in Malaysia). Finally, best practices should be adopted in the evaluation of current internet standards and web development.
2. News reports from BERNAMA.
3. Seminar guidelines on Media and Good Governance
4. Laurie Quellette and James Hay: Better Living through Reality TV (2008).
5. AIBD: Ethical Principles for Broadcasters (2009).
6. Commission on Communication and Multimedia Act 1998.
Ms Nagasvare D/O M. Krishnasamy is a broadcasting assistant in IPPTAR, Malaysia