The recent media coverage on the government’s comments about the South African media, much of which has been disseminated digitally from many different sources, has unfortunately also dragged technology into the spat.
Any government trying to dictate what the population of a country can or cannot say about business or politics is acting out of mandate. By implication, governments like this presume to take on the role of parents, while the rest of the populace are seen as children. This is patronisation in its worst form. It is ludicrous to believe that anyone, anywhere has the right to decide what anyone else can say or read on these topics.
On a more sinister note, why would they want to do this?
It’s not all that difficult to figure it out. There is a general view that what is disseminated by the mainstream media is complete, truthful and accurate. This is not always the case, particularly when it comes to sensitive news damaging to powerful people, companies or institutions. The clever use of language, the convenient lack of specific information, the speculative nature of creating must-see-or-read news, and the manipulation of facts to suit different agendas can often distort the reality for those of us eagerly digesting the ‘news’ at the end of the information tunnel.
While governments like ours want to manipulate information to present their version of the truth, they are not the only guilty parties. There is extensive abuse of power when it comes to controlling and manipulating what gets published in the press. In spite of their best efforts, the media itself is often the victim of incorrect or wrong information because it too is only part of a much larger game at work behind the scenes.
Unsurprisingly, all this has been going for centuries. It is nothing new. The only thing that’s new is the medium used to disseminate the information. And this is where it all goes pear-shaped for the digital-media platforms and technology itself.
Technology has the ability to put many different views and opinions out and on to very public platforms in a very short period of time, and it’s doing this extremely well. If anyone wants to get a handle on what is truly going on, there are often so many sources that a picture of what is really happening, although not perfect, is easier to piece together.
Technology has thus provided the means to distribute information in a highly effective manner. Technology-driven sources of media information therefore become targets for those wishing to manipulate what is said.
When it comes to the really popular media channels, it’s easy to spread incorrect information to a lot of people in a short time. In other words, if you control and choose to manipulate Google, for example, you are going to manipulate a large number of people, as well as outcomes related to money and power. In turn, it is easy to understand why really big, influential media companies can develop an interest in pleasing governments.
When technology media is controlled or manipulated, useful or pertinent information is not made available to the people who really need it. Those with some means, who have access to a lot of information and have the time to find it, can take a more sceptical view. The real losers are people with limited means, and who have limited access to a wider range of views. They end up believing what they hear.
Essentially, the centralised control of technologies like the internet is a way to regulate the mainstream digital press, the social media platforms, popular and unpopular news sites and many other sources of valuable, influential information. Governments and companies have a real interest in this.
Are we children who need a benign parent to look after us? Perhaps we do need to have big business or governments controlling bandwidth and internet access. Perhaps we need less digital information, not more. Perhaps we need some other person to decide what we can write, and what we can read or hear. What do you think?
Chris Wilkins is CEO of DVT
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