By Elvis Ogenyi
There is a revolution in the media industry globally; an emerging influence of social media and a fading glory of the traditional media is attracting investigation and research. Until recently, the radio, television and newspapers were the major channels of communication in the society and trained journalists and other professionals had the monopoly of disseminating news and information to the public through them.
In the new era, the monopoly is ended and anybody with an access to the social media is a news peddler. The age of mass communication is therefore, on a decline and journalism job in traditional media is being threatened. The era of web based, interactive communication is redefining theories and concepts in communication and basic roles of media to educate, inform and entertain are re-examined with evidenced new roles from the social media.
Happenings around the world are shared in split seconds as families and friends share information through emails, whatsapp and similar platforms leading to a dependence on social media by people of all ages. Audio and video information are freely exchanged on social networking platforms thereby enhancing interactions and entertainment in a form not witnessed before.
Families, friends, business associates, corporate meetings, political dispensations, military surveillance each in a new phase of development through the social media. No society, home or organization is difficult to penetrate with information and this ability to break barriers is among the attractions of the social media.
Presently, Zoom conference eliminates physical presence at meetings with presentation online as the equivalent of presentation in the hall of meeting. Online education and business is gradually redefining schooling, trade and commerce while YouTube and similar platforms are alternatives to video, television, music ‘box’ and radio.
The record shows that 54% of daily news are online. Furthermore, online newspaper publication is preferable to the hardcopy edition among readers, therefore, no publishing organization that is desirous of growth and survival can gloss over the need for adaptation with the new trend. It is against this backdrop that mainstream newspapers in the country have online editions and can be accessed from any part of the world.
An access to social media guarantees easy access to news and information and the dissemination of same without restrictions. However, Information in raw, unprocessed form is easily disseminated on social networking platforms by citizens. This underlines abuse that is currently a source of pressure on the Nigerian government to regulate the use of social media as obtains in some parts of the world.
Often, urgent and immediate news and information breaking on social media prepare for a more elaborate, factual presentations by the ‘news expert,’ and in emergency this could be very helpful in attracting the required response. In the situation, what the radio, television and newspapers report is the response attracted by reports on social media and details of the incidents, not the emergency.
Current sociopolitical dynamics require a break with the past that is outmoded by modernity therefore, the traditional media cannot remain an island devoid of internet facilities. Indeed, social media is a product of the internet and both are required for meaningful influence in the society presently especially, in mass communication.
Mass communication using the news defines the role of the journalist in the society. The journalist communicates with the public in understandable language and is responsible for news and information that enhance security and development. The choice, style and presentation of the news in the media influence the public.
The understanding and meaning of an issue expressed in news depend on style and presentation therefore, the news conform to acceptable rules and standard otherwise, risk a legal dispute of sedition in the broadcast media and libel in print. The social media therefore, does not guarantee reckless citizen journalism practice but is exposed to legal refrains despite being without gatekeepers seen in traditional media.
Usually, political, social and economic motives influence presentation and reports in traditional media. Reporters and editors are guided by policies and ethical refrains in reports and coverages of events with what is broadcast or published often reflecting the operational conditions and rules referred to as editorial policy. Such rules and regulations are enforced through ‘gatekeeping.’
Gatekeeping is supervision and moderation of the news by the reporter and editor. Threats are minimized with gatekeeping and safety and understanding prevail. Gatekeeping in the media can be likened to gate keeping at the entrance to a banking hall; it regulates movement in and out of the hall for security purpose. Hence, gatekeepers at the bank entrance are security personnel.
In traditional media are editors and reporters as gatemen therefore, they are the security personnel of the organization in charge of news. Unlike the traditional media, the social media have no gatekeeping as such especially in Nigeria. The absence of the gatekeeper further grants citizens the liberty to freely distribute whatever appeals to them on blogs, Facebook, twitter, YouTube and other platforms for the public.
Mudslinging, character assassination, frivolous and unverified audio and video information are therefore, common on social media. This undermines security and development and some countries, have measures to control it without jeopardizing democracy and freedom of expression. They invade public privacy and dwell on sycophancy for gains. Social media practitioners or citizen journalists therefore, share in the common media challenge the public loathe and criticize.
A prevailing abuse of social media is a cause for concern in Nigeria resulting to moves for legislative regulation. The public perceive the move as an attempt to gag the new media and to trample on the rights of citizens to freedom of speech enhanced by operations of the new media, a right also protected through the gatekeeping policy of traditional media but currently nonexistent in the new media hence, their abuse.
Secondary functions of the mass media include surveillance which entails a close watch of the environment. The media warn of threats and disclose opportunities through reports. The social media do this in split seconds and is more effective. Agenda setting is another important role of the media social platforms discharge effectively.
In Agenda setting, the media direct public attention on issues of societal value. They give to the public what to think and worry about; a case in point is COVID-19 which the media direct the global attention on. Farmers and pastoralists conflicts, insurgency, militancy, serial killings, abductions, kidnappings, corruption, misgovernance, government policies and programmes each is daily reported and analysed in the media.
The media as public watchdog, barks through objective reportage. Fair and accurate report is the hallmark of profitable journalism the social media cannot ignore no matter the pressure. The age of internet and web-based communication is evolving and redefining social, political and economic relations across the globe.