As many of us have mentioned in this blog, digital technology has had a huge impact on press freedom. I was tempted to do a summary, but Anne did this perfectly, and I don’t feel another one from me is particularly necessary.
So instead, I will talk about how technology has been the opposite of the Messiah, but in fact a very naughty boy.
In a recent feature I did, and am now plugging, I covered press freedom in South Africa under the apartheid regime up to 1994. Unlike the countries we have mentioned such as Iran and Burma, here digital technology was working for the corrupt government, and against the people who’s voice it should have been representing.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation was the South African people’s only TV option, and it was firmly in the pocket of the apartheid government. There were very few media outlets which stood up to the regime such as one good, old-fashioned newspaper the Weekly Mail.
But newspapers such as this only had a very small readership in relation to the population of the country. Television is a medium that requires no background knowledge, no education and no effort. Information pumped through it can be absorbed passively, and is often taken as the truth; the only truth.
Fortunately, there were also radio stations such as who also dared to challenge the strict government rules regarding broadcasting. They successfully streamed a live Peter Gabriel concert from Harare in neighbouring Zimbabwe, including a song he played for the anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died while in police custody.
Unfortunately this is not all history. Today South Africa’s media have unbelievable freedom (for the time being…), but in country’s such as Italy and Venezuela, the leaders have complete control over the television stations.
In these countries, the press are shunned by the people who much prefer TV news, despite its bias.
So while there is press freedom in these countries, the population are either ignorant of their existence or simply prefer the television. It is not the newest technology available, but it is by far one of the most influential.