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Media and Politics

February 14, 2009
... at your fingertips...

... at your fingertips...

Media technologies have always had an enormous effect on the behavior, belief, attitude, choices, and thinking of the public. Everyday people are exposed to thousands of media messages and different media technologies. Incessant media exposure may alter individuals’ personal choice, political belief, social and market views, among others.
In the past, people were only exposed to traditional print and analog broadcast media such as radio and television. The absence of new media technologies about thirty or more years ago restrained the preference of the public, as they only had to rely on the limited genres of both print and broadcast media. This lack of choice concentrated too much power and influence on the few media organizations. The best implement of media influence is agenda-setting, or the power of media organizations to choose what stories to cover and concentrate on and what news or messages to print or broadcast.
Agenda-setting is very effective in creating public opinion and political consensus, diverting people’s attention, infusing political choice, and ensuring political participation. In fact, the agenda-setting of a dominant media outlet could influence the choices, agenda, and media content of other news publications and broadcast organizations (Skewes 2007, p. 35).
The important and effective role of media in politics was proved about over half a century ago. Germany’s disgraced führer Adolf Hitler effectively used the radio to fortify and strengthen the power and influence of his Nazi regime by gaining tremendous public support in order to effectively carry out his ambition to gain global dominance through the use of propaganda methods. Germany’s propaganda methods were successfully modified and even fortified by the United States that is now the world’s superpower. Several critics of American imperialism like Noam Chomsky and Nancy Snow noticed and criticized the United States’ used of propaganda methods and the media to “manufacture consent” and to deceive the unsuspecting public (Snow 2006, 106; Herman and Chomsky 2002, p. 1).
With today’s new media technologies, the people now have the power of choice— what medium to use, what broadcast or print organization to patronize, what website to visit, what music to listen to, what messages to write and blogs to post, etc. The existence of new media technologies also give the traditional mass media a run for their money, as the public now become more proactive and participative in both social and political consensus and activities.
New media and society
To prevent confusion, it is necessary to know the different kinds of new media and their functions. New media technologies include web sites, email, mashup, video games, Internet art, virtual worlds, software, multimedia CD-ROMS, video conferencing, mobile gadgets, and voice internet protocol. Other kinds of new media technologies are electronic kiosks, blogs, podcasting, wiki, graphical user interface, and hypertext fiction. With the examples given, this only means that new media heavily depend on digital and electronic technologies. Thus, the existence of media convergence surpasses the traditional media in use over thirty years ago and allows for media participation and electronic interaction among media users.
The presence of various new media technologies with distinct features and functions has great divisive social impacts. New media technologies have divisive effects because, on the one hand, they effectively divert the attention of media users from the traditional media technologies, and, on the other hand, they attract and influence media audiences of different age brackets, sex, economic status, educational background, personal choice, etc.
Most young people today are more addicted to video games than the members of the baby boom generation. It can be said that most people who blog have attained a certain level of education. Blogs have also categories that bloggers could concentrate on like politics, humor, life, business, entertainment, etc. There are also millions of websites on the Internet today. Among the most popular websites in the world are Yahoo, Google, Friendster, Facebook, and Myspace. Among these websites, three are Internet social network services. Video conferencing and VoIP are usually used in the corporate world to enhance communication and interaction of people within business enterprises.
Among the new media technologies, mobile technology has the widest coverage and most number of users with an estimated 2 billion people in the world using mobile phones in 2005, according to Wireless Intelligence (Dennis 2005). China has the largest cellular connection with 432 million cellular phone users in 2006 (Nystedt 2006). The continuous development of new media technologies gave more media choices to the people, whereas before they were only restricted to analog broadcast models and print genres. More and more people now also turn to new media technologies, and this situation attracts new media technology companies to innovate.
New media and politics
New media took its start over a decade ago, when television was at its highest peak of influence. The emergence of new media in the ‘90s gained public curiosity and was generally observed in the United States’ political landscape (Davis, Owen and Owen 1998, p. 4). New media were first noticed during the United States’ 1992 presidential election campaign wherein political figures began to recognize the considerable force of new media technologies in politics.
In the United States, new media became an influential factor to politicians and political campaign planners when the Internet gained a wider media audience. Election campaign planners and presidential candidates largely considered the wide reach and control of the new media during the 1996 U.S. presidential election (Davis, Owen and Owen 1998, p. 5). According to Davis, Owen and Owen (1998, p. 5), the new media in U.S. politics in the late ‘90s were considered “fresh resources for information retrieval and dissemination, agenda-setting, and public opinion formation.” The use of new media for citizens or the electorate is also being viewed with great importance by political analysts and politicians, as the latter utilize new media as an instrument for analyzing or appraising the political landscape and messages within their own locality.
With their distinct capabilities and attractive features, new media have acquired tremendous role and influence in politics. Unlike in the past wherein traditional media technologies only offered a one-way channel, new media technologies gave the people the opportunity to participate in political affairs and activities like political debates, election campaigns, and election processes. Today, people are no longer spectators as they are now offered with different communication venues where they could share their opinion, air their grievances, state their political choices, and criticize political figures and political actions.
With their unique convergence capabilities, new media have considerable capacity to inform, assist public consensus and discourse, and improve citizen interaction and partaking in various political affairs (Davis, Owen and Owen 1998, p. 7). They also offer endless sources of political information to their mass audiences, making them more politically aware and more participative not only in political discourses but also in government programs and activities. Further, new media technologies are generally boundless, making their audiences visible not only in their own locality but also in the global sphere.
One advantage of new media technologies is their growing number of patronage and their ability to offer diverse services to their audiences. Mobile phones now have additional features similar to computers that allow cellular phone users to scroll online sites and check their latest email messages using the portable gadget. This capability offers a 24-hour internet connectivity to mobile phone users even if they are away from home. With this new mobile phone feature, users can now update themselves with political events and information even without reading newspapers and watching television news programs.
New media and citizen journalism
The advent of the Internet era that led to the innovation and intensification of new media technologies paved the way for the formation of new social landscape largely distinct from the social formation over half a century ago, when the world was still beholden to traditional media technologies. Some significant creations of new technologies are the virtual and gaming world, mobile avenues, social networks, and online or participatory journalism also known as citizen journalism.
New media technologies largely allow for citizen participation, public integration, and e-engagement in social, political, economic, education, environmental, technological, and global issues. With Information and Communication Technologies in place today, people became more aware and knowledgeable of the issues in their own locality as well as global issues confronting people from various countries and challenging nations across the world. Thus, the significant result of this social, political, economic, environmental, and global awareness led to the formation of citizen journalism.
Citizen journalism is perhaps the most important social outcome of new media technologies. Generally, the focus of new media technology is people— their continued patronage, their choices, and their improvement. Video cameras and digital cameras enable Internet users to capture the images or situations within their own surroundings and upload them on the Internet. The Internet, on the other hand, is the main destination and venue for all the things citizens gather through their new media gadgets like cellular phones and cameras as well as their thoughts, opinions, and insights about various kinds of social issues.
According to Internet World Stats (2008), there are more than 1.335 Internet users all over the world this year, most of which are from Asia that consist of 56.6 percent or a total of over 512 million online users. The second biggest hub of Internet users is Europe with about 374 million regular online visitors, followed by North America with over 243 million. Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean have more than127 million Internet users, followed by Africa with over 45 million, then Middle East with more than 33 million, while Oceania/Australia has over 19 million online users.

The online population of Internet bloggers is also increasing. Citizen journalists maintain blog sites where they publish their political views, ideas, perceptions, and opinions. Politics is just one of the many genres of blogging. Other types of blog categories are life, leisure, sports, philosophy, education, music, entertainment, travel, literature, Internet, gaming, personal, photography, poetry, events, family, food, etc. But among these blogging categories, politics is still the most popular and the most blogged in the virtual world. There are thousands of blog sites available in the Internet like and
The important role of citizen journalists was widely recognized after the London bombing wherein most of the captured photos that were used in the investigation came from bloggers. The owner of the picture that captured some moments before the actual bombing received the first citizen journalism award in 2006 (Citizen journalists get rewarded 2006).
Political Blogging
One significant form of political communication is political blogging. However, political bloggers in authoritarian states and the Arab world often meet political pressures. There were several reports on political bloggers who were harassed, pressured, and even incarcerated by their respective governments due to publishing politically sensitive blogs. According to Human Rights Watch (2007), most of the documented cases of harassment, censorship, and intimidation against political bloggers were from China and Iran.
One of those documented is the case of Shahram Rafizadeh, a 34-year-old Iranian journalist and blogger who was apprehended and imprisoned by Iranian authorities for exposing the killings of a number of intellectuals and writers in 1998 (Human Rights Watch 2007). Another Iranian blogger Arash Sigarchi, who was 28 years old when he was sentenced to suffer three years in prison for publishing about human rights violations of his own government on his blog (Human Rights Watch 2007).
The most recent and most popular case of government intimidation and harassment against bloggers is the case of Saudi blogger Fouad al-Farhan, who was held in prison for four months by Saudi authorities (Saudi blogger released from jail 2008). Farhan was arrested and detained for posting stories about social problems in Saudi on his blog and for advocating for the discharge of locked up Saudi liberals. The Saudi government was pressured to release Farhan after bloggers across the world protested that sparked worldwide indignation.
Political blogging is generally restricted in the Arab world. Really, new media technologies are now a big challenge to most repressive and authoritarian governments. Unlike the mainstream media, blog sites are incapable of government censorship. In blogging, the responsibility to ensure accuracy and correctness of the report solely lies on the shoulder of the blogger. The only way to guarantee this responsibility is self-censorship. That is, since they are unrestricted and have all the choice and opportunities what to write and publish online, bloggers have to bear in mind the rights of others that may be trampled upon by their blogs and the sensitivity and nature of the same that might catch the ire of onion-skinned government officials.
The most telling story of Internet blogging happened in Myanmar, as the authoritarian state’s military junta even cut Internet access so to prevent activist bloggers from informing the world of what was going on in the country formerly known as Burma (Myanmar bloggers tell their story 2007). Nameless bloggers uploaded thousands of photos on the Internet showing pervading lawlessness in Myanmar and the ruthless and callous treatment of police authorities against activist monks and protesters.
Contemporary political landscape
New media technologies play a very important role in political events like election campaign and election processes. Through new media technologies both the electorate and the young people can be informed well of political consensus in their own locality, the profiles of political candidates, pre-election polls conducted by survey firms, the results of political debates, among many others. Blog sites and network services also give other people an idea about the opinions and even political choices of others. People’s blogs can now be explored on the search engine, making them visible to all Internet users across them world.
Contemporary communication structures continue to gain wider influence in the world of politics and are controlling almost all aspects of relations and interfaces between governments and their subjects. However, new media technologies do not really create favorable public attitude for governments. There is no guarantee that the citizens’ exposure to new media information would make them more submissive, civilly obedient, patriotic, nationalistic, and law abiding. Most of the time, their continued reception of various kinds of new media information make them more critically informed and more sensitive about government’s decisions and actions. Having realized their participatory role in the World Wide Web, bloggers usually write about whatever they observed within the political environment where they belong and post them on their blog sites. There are also Internet savvy people who use podcasting to better convey their ideas and opinions to their fellow online users.
YouTube Generation
Among the video-sharing websites, YouTube has the most number of committed and even cult-like followers who do not only watch online videos but also participate in video-sharing activities by commenting on some existing videos, uploading their own clips, and sending their own video reply. The influence of YouTube in politics is well evidenced by the growing number of views and comments on political videos uploaded on the world’s most popular video-sharing website. Apart from reading news and blogs online, Internet users may also choose to watch the news on their favorite news channels like CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera in the World Wide Web.
In the United States, some political analysts comically call the ongoing 2008 presidential caucus the “YouTube election” ( 2008). In the entire history of the global superpower, the upcoming 2008 United States’ elections will certainly be the most wired, digitally mediated, and most witnessed election in the world. Countless of election videos of Democrats’ presidential aspirants Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, and Republicans’ presidential bets John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul are being viewed every minute of the day on YouTube. In fact most of the top viewed of the week are election videos of Paul, Obama, and Clinton.
Aside from videos about debates, presidential campaigns, television interviews, and exchange of bitter words, several propaganda videos designed to destroy or support candidates were also uploaded on YouTube. To enhance her election chances, Hillary Clinton even appeared on a video detailing her political platform ( 2008). The video, which was first launched on Clinton’s official website and then uploaded on YouTube, was indeed an effective election strategy, as it also caught the attention of broadcast media outlets and newspaper companies.
New media technologies are not only helpful in gaining the support of the electorate; they are also an effective fundraising tool. In fact, some of the candidates’ videos encourage American voters to support their bets by donating money. However, political analysts are not very sure about the impact of youTube videos and blogs on the political standing and chances of the candidates who will slug it out in the upcoming November elections.
Political participation in U.A.E.
Generally, political participation is restricted in the United Arab Emirates as political power is only exercised by the members of the ruling royal families of the seven emirates. This political setup relegated the emirates’ citizens to the sideline, as they have no political personality in taking part in the federal government’s political affairs. Since there is an absence of competitive elections, the leaders of the seven tribal states are chosen from among the members of the ruling families. UAE’s highest federal government, which is the Federal National Council (FNC), whose members composed of the heads of the seven emirates, elects the president of the entire territory (United Arab Emirates n.d.).
Despite the fact that UAE’s charter sanctions citizens’ “freedom to hold opinions and expression of the same as well as “freedom of communication,” such rights, however, are not being fully recognized by the federal government whose power is concentrated on few ruling families (United Arab Emirates n.d.). Political organizations are heavily restricted in all of the seven emirates and members of the media usually conduct self-censorship so as not to catch the ire of those in power.
However, in 2007, initial steps have been made to see the possibility of political participation in UAE. One of the top priorities of UAE President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is to establish the Shurah principles through the intensification of political involvement (New study highlights 2007). The president said that his vision is the “best guarantee for national unity.” For the first time since the inception of the federal government in 1971, the president declared the public selection of at least half of the members of the FNC, which is a great sign of political maturity in the gulf region (New study highlights 2007).
Positive impacts and constraints of new media
New media technologies have positive impacts on public awareness. Public awareness plays a very important role in the process of political participation. Without such awareness, there could be no political engagement. That is why communication has a great impact on the perception, thinking, decision, and attitude of the people within a particular community. In the post-awareness stage, there is a probability that the people would then engage in new media activities such as blogging, establishing online networks with other people, among others.
Generally, limitations to new media technologies are external. Such constraints are either technical in nature or imposed, determined, or laid down by the government. In UAE, much of the territory’s resources are invested in Information and Communication Technology. In fact, one of its emirates, Dubai, has the most developed e-government system in the world. The rulers in Dubai have since embraced the difference that ICT could make in the lives of its constituents. This development could be an instrument to make the people more politically aware, which is the important impetus of political participation.
Once the aforementioned process of communication is translated into public awareness, then political participation is most expected. But even so, there are some factors that restricts this process. These factors come from the hands of the rulers. Similar to media censorship, a particular government could impose a law limiting the use of new media technologies. Thus, the only guarantee to political participation lies in the hands of government leaders, while the role of new media technologies is to serve as a communication channel between the government and the governed. It must be understood well that despite the technological progress in UAE, political participation remains a pipe dream if its rulers restrict its constituents from partaking in various democratic and political process.
Political participation determined by government, not by NMT
Several steps must be done to ensure that political communication and political process are complied with. First, the position and role of women in the emirates must be clearly stated and established in the UAE’s constitution. The rights of the media and the people to free expression must be respected, and political organizations must be allowed to participate in certain political activities.
First, constraints to new media technologies are purely external, meaning they come from outside factors like technical problems and government policies and regulations. Second, political participation is determined by the government and not the new media technologies. The role of new media technologies is to communicate government policies and programs to its constituents. That is, purely ministerial communication. Third, political communication only occurs with the permission of the government and not guaranteed by new media technologies.
New media technologies are just there in the market, thus the government has the prerogative if it recognizes their importance or restricts their use. Luckily, Dubai has a leader who fully understands the impact of ICT and NMT not only on the emirate’s economy but also on the lives of its people. Governments in some countries like North Korea, Myanmar, and some African countries hesitate to foster technological development or even deliberately deprive their people of access to new technologies like the Internet.
Benefits from political participation and communication
It must be understood that political participation and political communication would remain an exercise in futility without the government’s express sanction. Political participation varies from one country to another. In the United States, political participation is evidence by elections, whereas in UAE, its people are not encouraged or even restricted to participate in political processes. There is a need to reiterate that such political participation and communication is determined by the government and not by the existing new media technologies.
The ongoing political development in the UAE with the guiding vision of its president is the initial indication that political participation has been recognized by the federal government. One of the benefits of political participation had already been mentioned by the president of the UAE, which is national unity. Among the benefits of political participation and political communication are the following:
a. Enhanced political leadership through the process of Shurah or consultation;
b. More public support;
c. Heightened public morale;
d. National prosperity through public engagement;
e. The boons of democracy.
New media technologies and the future
There is a need to understand well the capabilities and impacts of new media technologies available today. As mentioned above, modern-day communication structures have had a great effect on the dealings between political leaders and their constituents. The result of this setup is the widening of the communication gap between governments and the governed. In turn, this gap usually leads to misunderstanding, harassment, intimidation, threat, and political pressure on the part of the government and against individual new media users.
Just recently, media personalities situated in the Arab world conducted a media technology debate titled “Freedom: The New Battlefront for Arab Cyber Media,” to understand how the Arab media cope with the effects of digital and new media technologies on press freedom (Press Release 2008). One of the speakers of the journalistic forum admitted that generally people do not really understand the new media technologies being used today. This responsibility actually lies on the sincere initiative of public leaders and the civil society to tackle the different issues relating to the use of new media technologies and their overall impact (Press Release 2008).
The existence of participatory media brought down the traditional barriers that set the public and the government wide apart over thirty years ago. In the past, the role of media audiences was just that of a spectator, as there were no available or alternative communication channels that could accommodate their messages, political opinions, and ideas. With the unprecedented development and innovation of digital and electronic media, citizens slowly entered into the new media sphere and established a domain where they could freely express and enforce their political opinions without prior restraint and pre-determined conditions.
In conclusion, new media technologies are not just effective in informing and educating the public. They also possess a significant potential in making people more proactive and interactive in political affairs, political issues, and government activities through e-participation and e-engagement. What is undeniable is that the era of new media is still in its transitional stage. Thus, there is a need to better understand the potentials and characteristics of new media technologies with respect to man’s rights, political structures, and world affairs. This is because the future offers a distinct level of global structure— entirely different from what is in place today— with more sophisticated and complex new media technologies.

References:‘Citizen journalists get rewarded 2006,’ BBC News, 14 July. Retrieved on May 9, 2002, from
Davis, E, Owen, D, & Owen, D 1998, New Media and American Politics, Oxford, Oxfordshire.
Dennis, T 2005, Two billion mobile phone mark reached, The Inquirer, 18 September. Retrieved
on May 9, 2002, from
billion-mobile-phone-mark-reached 2007, Youtube politics: Digital campaign may help shape 2008,,
25 June. Retrieved on May 9, 2002, from
Herman, E & Chomsky, N 2002, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass
Media, Pantheon Books, New York
Human Rights Watch 2007, Banned, censored, harassed, and jailed: 45 writers from 22
countries receive Hellman/Hammet Grants, Human Rights Watch, 6 February. Retrieved
on May 9, 2002, from
Internet World Stats 2008, World Internet Users March 2008, Internet World Stats. Retrieved on
May 9, 2002, from
‘Myanmar bloggers tell their story’ 2007,, 28 September. Retrieved on May 9,
2002, from
New study highlights political participation in UAE 2007, UAE Interact, December 2. Retrieved
on May 14, 2008, from
Nysted, D 2006, China hits 432 million mobile phone users, InfoWorld, August 24. Retrieved on
May 9, 2002, from
Skewes, E 2007, Message Control: How News is Made of the Presidential Campaign Trail,
Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland
Snow, N 2006, The Arrogance of American Power: What U.S. Leaders are Doing Wrong and
Why It’s Our Duty to Dissent, Rowman and Littlefield, Maryland
United Arab Emirates n.d., Internet. Retrieved on May 14, 2008, from http://www.bertelsmann-

14 Comments leave one →
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    March 3, 2009 3:38

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