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Media Diversity and Digital Age: “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU ALL THE TIME”

Big Borther-G

Prof. Subhash Dhuliya
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Democracies thrive on well-informed public opinion which demands free media and free flow of information. The digital age was expected to facilitate information empowerment of masses but the opposite has occurred. The initial phase of digital revolution provided diverse sources of news and information and an increase in pluralism. But the present phase, is witnessing highly misinformed and manipulated “choices”. The increasing control of information, now conveniently being termed as ‘data’, has restricted exposure to differing viewpoints and various perspectives of real issues. Powerful information giants are dominating the cyber space. Global giants are in control of huge amount of data on each one of us- more than what we know about our own self. For example, Google trackers have been found on seventy five percent of the top million websites. This means they are also trying to track most everywhere we go on the internet. The result of the tracking is that Google uses our personal profile to sell ads, not only on their search engine, but also on about three million other websites and apps. Every time we visit one of these sites or apps, Google is following you around with hyper-targeted ads, trying to influence your behavior. Our every action right from a search on Google to a ‘Like’ on Facebook reflect our choices and preferences which are collected and analyzed through artificial intelligence, providing immense power to global giants to ‘control’ us and take us in a desired direction. This kind of control is being hotly debated across the globe to the extent that the future of democracy is under clouds. It is being argued that the voting in democracy is not what you “think” but what you “feel” and feelings are most vulnerable to the manipulations. The control on hearts and minds of people leads to control of every sphere of human life. It is being argued that data colonialism has set in, which in due course will result into ‘global digital dictatorship’ – the end of democracy, the end of freedom of choices, the end of the diverse world of numerous colors making everything grey
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Diversity in Indian media was at best during 70s and 80s. Just take an example of English newspapers published from National Capital of Delhi: The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Statesman, The Indian Express, The Patriot, The National Harold and The Motherland. They were newspapers of different political orientation capturing different perspectives of political , social and economic life of the nation- centralist, rightist , leftist , pro-government, anti-establishment, pro-communist, pro-Jan Shangh (now BJP), pro-Congress and so on and so forth.

It was during early 1990s when the economy went in neo-liberal mode and media owners saw a huge business opportunity that the media landscape started to change drastically. There was a paradigm shift. News media ceases to be a public service institution and converted into a business venture whose sole objective was to optimize profit. News got converted into a consumer product that demanded new packaging to make it attractive. Citizenry ceased to be target audience but it was the new consumer of neoliberal era which got firmly rooted by then with highly increased purchasing power- the booming new middle class.

The logic of new media business with intense competition to fetch advertising revenue and price war resulted into marginalization of relatively low-circulation newspapers in National Capital. A kind of oligopoly of major players emerged –the times of India, the Hindustan Times and the Indian Express. The major chunk of the market came under the control of the Times of India and the Hindustan Times. The oligopoly of these two entered into an unwritten understanding to become more economical and profitable by drastically scaling down resources for editorial and news operations. The diversity drastically diminished. The packaging might had been somewhat different but the content was by and large the same.

Another level of diversity in Indian medial landscape: Ever since independence, Indian media (it was only print at that time) was very diverse and there were three layers with different coverage and orientation, namely, the National Press, the Regional Press and the Local Press. The National Press was not really ‘national’ in its reach but was termed national because of coverage of major national and international coverage. The regional was a combination of national and local press. The local press at district and tehsil level used to play important role in raising the local issues and was effective in drawing attention f district administration to solve the problems. It played important role in this regard. But with the technological revolution that started impacting the printing technology in 1970s, these boundaries got blurred.

New technology facilitated multi-editions newspapers. Regional press became highly localised virtually ousting local press from medial landscape. Major newspapers group entered into regional domain and vice versa. The process of concentration of media ownership was set in. The diversity at the national, regional and local level was eroded and because of concentration of ownership, diversity in content also became a casualty. The major newspapers groups “agreed” to give priority to business and investment in editorial and news gathering was slashed down. The ‘easiest’ and ‘cheapest’ news started gaining momentum. The ‘market’ started to dominate the core values of journalism.

The institution of editor and the autonomy of editorial department were done away and a new breed brand managers (at times under guise of editor) took over who has expertise in covering “news” into “product”. In certain cases, if not most, owners have taken control of editorial directly. It’s hardly remembered or perhaps recorded that there were editors who would not listen to the owners and there were owners who will readily grant this autonomy to the editors. It was a wonderful relationship that was foundation of our Free Press. This created a beautiful media landscape that was bestowed by various colours of plurality and diversity.

1990s was historical era in world history and so was for us. Berlin wall collapsed. Cold war ended. Communist model failed. It was perceived as triumph of Western model of free market economy and liberal multiparty democracy. Francis Fukuyama declared it “End of History” meaning free market model and multiparty liberal democracy are now the ultimate destination mankind has reached. Samuel Huntington perceived it as beginning of “Clash of Civilizations” virtually meaning end of ideologies. Huntington in the article titled (The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, summer 1993) stated: “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

The free market economic reforms started sweeping the world. The process of globalization was set in with much higher vigour and intensity. The information and technological revolution started scaling new heights unheard before. The ‘networked society’ the ‘global village’ became a reality. (Who were ‘networked’ who were inhabitants of the ‘new village’ is a different issue of enquiry and study). The global flow of all kinds of media products became relatively free-virtually unhindered by political, social and cultural barriers. The process of globalization was a total package a kind of synchronization of international political, economic, social and cultural life. With the advent of the advent and availability of numerous sources of news and information, it was expected in certain quarters

India also witnessed a media boom- proliferation of multi-edition newspapers, 24×7 news and entertainment satellite channels and emergence of New Media (as it was called then). Media acquired a colossal size and started to play important role in our democratic life. The media became key platform of democratic discourse. The elections (the grand festival of democracy) started to be “fought and won” on television channels. The event ceased to be important but what became important was its media coverage. The character and nature of election campaign changed drastically. Political rallies became more of media event. “Door-to-Door” campaigning became an ancient history. So became role of commercialized and corporate media to the extent that someone said that “democracy” has been replaced by “mediacracy”.

It is in this backdrop, that we have to look and analyze the present medial scenario. This was the scenario that we witnessed before the advent of the digital media as we know it now. The key foundation of the New Media (as it was termed then) was world-wide-web- the internet.

The free market economic reforms started sweeping the world. The process of globalization was set in with much higher vigour and intensity. The information and technological revolution started scaling new heights unheard before. The ‘networked society’ the ‘global village’ became a reality. (Who were ‘networked’ who were inhabitants of the ‘new village’ is a different issue of enquiry and study). The global flow of all kinds of media products became relatively free-virtually unhindered by political, social and cultural barriers. The process of globalization was a total package a kind of synchronization of international political, economic, social and cultural life. With the advent of the advent and availability of numerous sources of news and information, it was expected in certain quarters. With the emergence of digital age, the process of synchronization has acquired unprecedented heights

This first phase of information and technological revolution was facilitated by integration of computer, telecommunication and satellite. A networked global ‘village’ had emerged. People had access diverse sources of news and information. Internet created numerous platforms of political, social and cultural interactions. There were high expectations that information will be democratize because of advent of internet. It was partially so in the first phase but later development of emergence of global giants in the field of news and information the democratization process got reversed.

The present phase of this information and technological revolution is integration of information technology and biotechnology and advent of artificial intelligence which has acquired immense power of control and influence. The era of colonialism of industrial era has now acquired new form of data colonialism with immense power to contrail and influence minds or people. Age of the New Media has been transformed to the Age of Digital Media in which data reigns supreme. This is much higher degree of concentration of media and information power and drastically eroding diversity and plurality.

What most people don’t realize is that even if you don’t use any Google products directly, they’re still trying to discover as much as they can about you. Google trackers have been found on 75% of the top million websites. This means they’re also trying to track most everywhere you go on the internet, trying to slurp up your browsing history! The result of all that tracking is that Google uses your personal profile to sell ads, not only on their search engine, but also on over three million other websites and apps. Every time you visit one of these sites or apps, Google is following you around with hyper-targeted ads, trying to influence your behavior. https://brainly.in/question/15903034

Media pluralism as defined in the Wikipedia is the state of having a plurality of voices, opinions and analyses on media system (internal pluralism) or the coexistence of different and diverse types of medias and media support (external pluralism). “Reporters Without Borders” considers “access to a plurality of editorial lines and analyses as essential for citizens to be able to confront ideas, to make their own informed choices and to conduct their life freely”. Access to information, as the ability for an individual to seek, receive and impart information effectively, is an aspect of media pluralism.

According to the UNESCO report on world trends in freedom of expression and media development, a sharper division in the way we use news is coming up due to the interaction between consumption habits, changing economic models and technical systems. This signifies that even if multiple kinds of information and programming are available, each segmented group may only ingest one branch of the whole. The increase of Internet penetration and reliance on online sources for news is thought of to producing social debates. The information gatekeeping operations of the media in digital age have drifted far away to keep people informed. Rather it has developed technological instruments to meet specific objectives global media and information giants.

Across the world, journalism is under fire. While more individuals have access to content than ever before, the combination of political polarization and technological change have facilitated the rapid spread of hate speech, misogyny and unverified ‘fake news’, often leading to disproportionate restrictions on freedom of expression. In an ever-growing number of countries, journalists face physical and verbal attacks that threaten their ability to report news and information to the public. osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media

The information revolution created massive networks of information which in their basic nature and character are highly centralized and excessively being used to control and manage the Post-Industrial World Order. Again, because of the centralized nature of the digital revolution, it came to be dominated by the new technologies and the role of information component declined and technology became dominant which is relatively more social by its very nature. Historian Yuval Noah Harari in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” says that “liberalization and globalization are huge racket empowering tiny elite at the expense of the masses”.

For the ruling elite of the developing countries is finding it somewhat powerless in the wake of the digital revolution and few global corporate giants are calling the shots. National identities are at danger once global giants take control and a kind of “digital dictatorship” emerges which is already in the offing because of integration of information and biotechnologies which has given rise of artificial intelligence. It’s bound to result huge unemployment among highly skilled workforce. Harari says “Notwithstanding the danger of mass unemployment, what we should worry about even more is the shift in authority from humans to algorithms which might destroy remaining faith in the liberal story and open the way to the rise of digital dictatorship” The most influential magazine the Foreign Affairs in its May/June 2018 issue has titled its cover with caption: “Is Democracy Dying- A Global Report”. The issue outlines combination of factors that are posing dangers to the liberal democracy.

Media freedom and pluralism are at the heart of any democracy. They embrace editorial independence, the free flow of ideas, and public access to a wide range of information sources and views. A rich, diverse and transparent media landscape that promotes freedom of expression, leads to well-informed public opinion

The future of democracy and the future of freedom are hotly debated subject as of now. It is being argued that the voting in democracy is not what you “think” but what you “feel”. “Free Will” is not free in traditional sense but can be manipulated in desired direction by those who control levers of power (the digital media in present context) and direct people feelings and emotions in desired direction. Democracies thrive in a diverse and pluralistic flow of information through various channels of information which is getting eroded in the new landscape of era of digital media. Media freedom and pluralism are at the heart of any democracy.

Democracies thrive when there is a diverse, pluralistic and rich media environment. A free and diverse media goes hand in hand with the right to freedom of expression. Media freedom and pluralism are at the heart of any democracy. They embrace editorial independence, the free flow of ideas, and public access to a wide range of information sources and views. A rich, diverse and transparent media landscape that promotes freedom of expression, leads to well-informed public opinion.

The editorial independence, the free flow of ideas, and public access to a wide range of information sources and views are crucial to develop an empowered citizenry which is foundation of an ideal democracy. The answer lies in Information literacy, media literacy, news literacy, advertising literacy, digital literacy, to digital literacy which is major challenge before journalism and mass communication education to develop critical thinking and skills to evaluate the information-ability to access, evaluate, analyze and appreciate.

There is huge volume of information at the disposal of a journalist and general public as well. Digging truth from this huge volume of information has been subject of intense debate. The term post-truth era has been coined in 2016 which was termed as Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionary where it is defined as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” “Post-truth politics is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics

Liberal democracy is the best form of governance, as compared to all forms tested so far, but now because of information explosion being carried out through digital media, it is in crisis and the future of liberal democracy is under clouds. It is being said that the democracy in the digital age is more and issue of human feeling rather than human rationality. The media of the day has immense capacity to play with people’s feelings.

The post-factual or post reality era, debates on politics are being framed largely by appeals to emotions, disconnected from details of the policy. Objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotions and personal beliefs. Global media giants are well equipped to collect data and conduct micro targeting to play with people’s emotions and beliefs and to take them in the desired direction.

Despite advances in communication technologies and massive outpouring of information in various forms it failed to facilitate a wider distribution of information. Distribution is paradoxically restricted to those who already have more than their fair share of information. Now even questions are being raised as to what extent even the information-rich are informed or are they more misinformed? Are they intellectually skilled enough, to decipher the hidden meanings that are being communicated through intense bombardments of various types of information? Information is becoming highly specialized and complex. It implies that despite the huge volume of information available to people more people know less. The resource information is far more difficult to exploit than land and capital. It requires highly developed intellectual and managerial skills that are unevenly distributed in the society.

The drastic decline in plurality and diversity in digital age, the unprecedented acceleration process synchronization of political, economic, social and cultural life has created entirely news scenario and its if difficult to anticipate the implications. The future is uncertain and difficult to predict. The answer is taking shape in the womb of the future. Nothing can be said as of now

The rapid proliferation of ‘fake news’- both my mainstream and social media- has disrupted healthy democratic public discourse. The massive outpouring of fake news is eroding the process of democratization of information and creating misinformed public opinion. Question arises that are ordinary people equipped with intellectual skills to evaluate and verify the accuracy of information and judge the reliability and credibility of the sources from whom the information have originated? Without diverse sources, it is not possible to incorporate various perspectives of the issue in the news story. This has created imbalance in the all kinds of journalistic writings.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari has put it in this way in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”: “false stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people. Commercial firms also rely on fiction and fake news. Branding often involves retelling the same fictional story again and again, until people become convinced it is the truth. What images come to mind when you think about Coca-Cola? Do you think about healthy young people engaging in sports and having fun together? Or do you think about overweight diabetes patients lying in a hospital bed? Drinking lots of Coca-Cola will not make you young, will not make you healthy, and will not make you athletic — rather; it will increase your chances of suffering from obesity and diabetes. Yet for decades Coca-Cola has invested billions of dollars in linking itself to youth, health, and sports — and billions of humans subconsciously believe in this linkage.”https://ideas.ted.com/are-we-living-in-a-post-truth-era-yes-but-thats-because-were-a-post-truth-species/

Second important factor that massively disrupt, diversity and plurality of the key resource of information in this era, is the extent of the manipulation of minds of people that can be done through collection, processing and micro level targeting to manipulate the minds of people to act in desired direction, specifically, in context of voting public. The global giants Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have huge amount of data at their disposal of large number of people that can be used to influence their behavior in number of ways- right from e-commerce to voting pattern.

They are most powerful giants in the world in who can anticipate the future trends in every spheres of human life which give them immense power to control and disseminate information and in the process demolish the diversity and plurality of media the ways we have known it. It has given rise to information dissemination systems that have algorithmic basis and artificial intelligence, controlling access to news and drastically reducing diversity and plurality and shrinking space for varying and dissenting voices.

The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal in early 2018 revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of peoples’ Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising purposes. In April 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in the US Senate that the company learned in 2015 that “Cambridge Analytica had bought data from an app developer on Facebook that people had shared it with. He further stated that we do not sell data to advertisers however Facebook uses information people provide, such as their age, gender and interests, to target ads to a specific audience.

Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have huge amount of data of users to the extent that these companies know more about us than we actually know about own self. They collect data over a period of time which can be used to influence our behaviors for various purposes including political preferences. The very action of “Like” on Facebook is enough to analyze our behaviors, preferences or attitude through and artificial intelligence. We share a data about ourselves through our every action on any of the medial platform. They are continuously gathering and exploiting vast quantity of data and through vast resources for the Research and Development can anticipate the future.

What most people don’t realize is that even if you don’t use any Google products directly, they’re still trying to discover as much as they can about you. Google trackers have been found on 75% of the top million websites. This means they’re also trying to track most everywhere you go on the internet, trying to slurp up your browsing history! The result of all that tracking is that Google uses your personal profile to sell ads, not only on their search engine, but also on over three million other websites and apps. Every time you visit one of these sites or apps, Google is following you around with hyper-targeted ads, trying to influence your behavior. https://brainly.in/question/15903034

The initial phase of digital media provided diverse sources of news and information to people. It multiplied choices leading to an increase in pluralism. But next phase, drastically witness manipulated “choices” and algorithms used by social media platforms and search engines to provide users with a highly personalized experience based on their individual preferences which has restricted exposure to differing viewpoints and various perspectives of real issues that concern our lives and thus posing a grave challenge to the diversity and plurality. Dominant voices have suppressed the dissent voices. Dominant giants and the dominant voices are dominating the online spaces. Diversity has become a camouflage to hide the concentration of medial power resulting into marginalization of the truth as we have known it before.

“The risk to media pluralism need to be considered in context of social media electoral micro targeting in electoral processes; Algorithm driven media news leading to political or social bias; Data-driven news personalisation and recommendations systems; Filter bubbles and echo chambers effects Disinformation and misinformation; hidden behaviors; Concentration of digital advertising; Absence of editorial responsibility in social media and Polarization of opinions and debates. https://www.slideshare.net/CmpfEui/new-threats-to-media-pluralism-in-the-digital-age

The drastic decline in plurality and diversity in digital age, the unprecedented acceleration process synchronization of political, economic, social and cultural life has created entirely news scenario and its if difficult to anticipate the implications. The future is uncertain and difficult to predict. The answer is taking shape in the womb of the future. Nothing can be said as of now.

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The author of the article Prof. Subhash Dhuliya is Professor (Culture and Media Studies) at Central University of Rajasthan. He has been Vice Chancellor, Uttarakhand Open University, Professor of Journalism at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) and Distinguished Professor & Dean, School of Creative Art, Design and Media Studies, Sharda University

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