We all know that mass media play an important role as the fourth estate or power in the world. Who among us has not heard about a scandal brought to light by a newspaper which has cost his position to a civil servant, a minister, or sometimes a president? Some journalists have become our “mind masters” through their ability to make us hear something other than what private companies want us to keep in mind. The realities of small towns have become almost familiar worldwide because of the activism of some reporters.
But while this responsibility and power of the media is now accepted and recognized around the world, on the other side, some countries continue to restrict the freedom of expression of their media, journalists and also their citizens. At the same time, they also deprive us of our right to information, our right to freedom of expression, and our right to diversity.
Fortunately, in many countries where freedom of expression is threatened, alternative media have emerged and most of them enjoy the benefits of the internet. The media have gone online for various reasons. Whether to avoid cuts in subsidies that forced them shut their office or because of prohibitively expensive license, the internet was a solution for them.
When security issues prevented the publication of stories under their true identity, the anonymity made possible thanks to the internet helped them.
Beyond traditional media, social media such as facebook, twitter, youtube also helped to disseminate images of human rights violations only a few seconds after they have taken place. International campaigns against state sponsored violence have been successful in a manner unimaginable just a decade ago.
But still, those who suppress freedom, those who give themselves the right to think on our behalf, and those who want to manipulate us have found the parade. They hire professional bloggers to emulate the views of the "opposition", or multiply the popular vote to their advantage.
These people violate the privacy of internet users, and sometimes send them to cool down in a prison or 'disappear' those who write and document violations.
In the name of morality, the fight against child pornography and the exploitation of children for sexual purposes, the security of their states, their borders (but we know also that it is to protect their own investment and interest in different countries), they restrict the openness that has made the Internet to be so powerful and popular: a media that belongs to everyone. Irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or social class.
So these are the things that convinced me and help me say that we must demand at any cost that our media be restored to us. This is why I took a flight to Vilnius, Lithuania, far from my home and work to attend the internet governance forum.
But if we users and consumers of the internet are not careful, the values which we cherish so much and made our strength can also be lost and lead to our destruction.
Convergence - the internet's ability to cross-check and consolidate services and digital tools that were formerly independent - has allowed the development of multifunction devices, platforms and networks through more contacts and exchanges between each and different specific elements to a homogeneous digital one.
But this convergence has now created a monopoly in the field of communication and media. Studies have shown that the top ten advertising companies in the world control alone 71% of online advertising, says a delegate from the Dutch media and communication observatory, with a very strong chance to make us buy, accept everything they want. Anything and everything.
The convergence also means less diversity of information. For example, a popular newspaper in the U.S., The Washington Post, decided to close its offices outside of the U.S. capital in December 2009. I am not even speaking of African newspapers that have just disappeared because there was no more interest in funding them since they could find “everything that is wanted” on the internet.
In all cases, this means more work for the few journalists who remain, and with less money. Less money means little diversity in information, few investigation trips, arbitrary prioritization of information and the need to work quickly to deliver the product, like in a factory.
Meanwhile, the forgotten crises are forgotten forever. Domestic violence that women and children experience everyday can’t compete with war in Afghanistan. The violence that we fear in life have gone and adapted to the new digital world as well.
Regulation threatens the openness, the anonymity, the diversity of voices and much more. You understand why conversations about internet governance should continue.