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PART 3: The Fall of the Printed Newspaper and the Rise of Cyberspace

By Satheesan Kumaaran

With all the mass media concentrated in a few hands, the ancient faith in the competition of ideas in the free market seems like a hollow echo of a much simpler day – Kingman Brewster, Jr

Advantages and disadvantages of printed newspaper and cyberspace

Computer Changes: Companies and Society

Cyberspace has been influential in almost all the public and private sectors and they are contributing positive and negative outcomes. Some of the advantages are: benefits for manufacturing; benefits for offices, banks and retail stories; benefits in medicine; benefits for publishers; aids researchers; benefits for private uses; benefits in improving public service; and provides entertainment and pleasure. However, some disadvantages are: causing intellectual-property problems; raises free-speech issues; problem of privacy; pornography; and sexual abuse of children.

New developments using wireless communication, video-conferencing, and telemedicine have become available recently, which contribute for the general public to share their views and allow for debate, which is good sign for democracy. The computer revolution has also greatly benefited society. Many public services have been improved and expanded with the use of new technology. A few examples illustrate that local communities provide better traffic control; journalists provide more accurate political polling; the federal government provides quick census analysis and efficient postal service all with the benefit of computers.

From the perspective of politics, Robert McChesney makes various arguments on democracy and communication revolution. He explains that cyberspace, especially, opens up doors allowing general public to engage in public debate and expressing their opinions, letting the people decide what to accept and not to. On the other hand, he is pessimistic about it because he says that some influential individuals can use the cyberspace for propagating their own agenda with the available resources online. However, he is on the pro-side of cyberspace because that would minimize the influence of printed media, which are mostly occupied and influenced by corporations and powerful elites and rejecting the voice of general public.

For example, he argues that it is difficult for the readers to send their opinions to media outlets and get them published although they are written perfectly, because the media outlets they do not fit into the media outlets’ agenda no matter how newsworthy or pertinent the topic may be. Such filtering of opinion articles would not be healthier in democracy and would not affect politics. However, Internet media outlets may be more lenient, certainly there are more non-commercial avenues, allowing more personal views. They can even publish articles to discredit the government influencing political instability.

Further, he argues that the U.S. government is charged with regulating electronic media. In short, broadcasting is a public trust and in the past the public was allowed its say. McChesney recounts and considers the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed for public participation and open debate, the public was largely kept in the dark. The law it replaced, the Communications Act of 1934, regulated telephony, radio, and television.

The 1996 Act provides the basis for determining the course of radio, television, telephony, the Internet–indeed virtually all aspects of communication as we shift over to digital technologies. Its guiding premise is that the market should rule communication, with government assistance. The politics of the Act consisted largely of powerful corporate communication firms and lobbies fighting behind the scenes to get the most favorable wording. That the corporate sector would control all communication was a given – the only fight was over which sectors and which firms would get the best deals. The public was, for the most part, unaware of these debates. The drafting and struggles over the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were rarely discussed in the news media, except in the business and trade press, where the legislation was covered as a story of importance to investors and managers, not citizens, or even consumers.

The results of the Telecommunications Act, with its relaxation of ownership restrictions to promote competition across sectors, have been little short of disastrous. Rather than produce competition, a fantastic notion in view of the concentrated nature of these markets, the law has paved the way for the greatest period of corporate concentration in U.S. media and communication history.

Digital technologies are undermining the traditional distinctions between media and communication sectors that formed the basis for earlier communication regulation. But heavy lobbying and generous contributions to both Democrat and Republican parties, resulted in a brief, sham debate and a rushed decision. Further, he argues about the significance of globalization of commercial media, the limits of the Internet as a boon to democracy, and corporate frustrating of the democratic process.

Along with the advantages, cyberspace is bringing problems and risks, which are still unsolved, and new problems arise as new technology becomes available. One of the problems is the enforcement of intellectual-property rights. In the past, copyright laws protected authors and composers and assured their rights to control their work and receive compensation. Computer technology makes it easy to pirate creative works, thus denying the originators of those works just compensation. Although schemes have been developed to persuade users to pay for downloading voluntarily, none of the schemes have been successful. Presently, developers are working on a CD that has a built-in mechanism to prevent its being downloaded.

Further to the intellectual-property, the free and open nature of the Internet also raises the issue of free speech and regulation, particularly in regard to pornography and the protection of children. Many states have laws against child pornography, but when technology is used to alter ordinary pictures to make them look pornographic, the issue becomes more complicated. Soon after its commercialization in 1993, the Internet and the World Wide Web gained prominence in producing, disseminating, storing, and presenting pornographic materials known as cyberporn or cybersex. All these are contributing factors to degrade the value of democracy.

Democracy does not mean free-society, but to respect others. Democracy allows the majority to embrace the minority, so the majority or the powerful elites should respect the sick and the suppressed. Men should give respect to women. Elders should give respect to younger ones. Rich should respect the poor. However, the free access to cyberspace should not attribute to social ills.

McChesney agrees that society will have several disadvantages in regard to democracy and a rare window of opportunity in the next decade or two to create a communication system that will be a powerful impetus for a more egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and creative (self-governing) society. He calls it a critical juncture that would not remain open for long. It offers a historical juncture in a fight we cannot afford to lose. The stakes for a free society are that high, and stacked against the public interest are powerful forces determined to prevail with friends in high places supporting them.

However, he is optimistic that the corporate stranglehold over our media system is very much in jeopardy and citizen actions that have successfully challenged them in the recent past have won important victories on ownership rules, protecting public broadcasting and standing up to government and corporate propaganda masquerading as (real) news and information.

However, the most important battle lies ahead – preserving net neutrality and keeping the Internet free, open and out of corporate hands. So, the real disadvantages lie ahead as usual. However, cyberspace has paved the way for younger generations to generate more innovations with sites such as Facebook, etc.

Also, McChesney contends that giant corporations control government policymaking, the public is ignored, and media reform can’t happen unless the system changes. He argues that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the U.S., like other government agencies, serves dominant private, not public, interests, and it shows in its rulings. The major media won’t report them, and McChesney says ninety-nine percent of the public has no idea what is going on (and instead) are fed a plateful of free market hokum about giving people what they want. He further says that the entire rationale for our media system rests upon a fairy tale about free markets….that (in fact are structured) to protect the corporate media system from the public review it deserves and desperately needs.

While cyberspace is contributing positive aspects to society, it also contributes greatly the ill of society, which should be dealt with an iron fist by the governments. However, laws are easy to break on the Internet because cyberspace can be used remotely where it’s difficult to monitor. Although governments can track the violators by locating the Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, which is like the door number where the computer is based, it is hard to apprehend the abusers because they use unidentifiable IPs and/or use public computer labs to get away from the law enforcement agencies.

So, the abusers also know how to get away from the governments, and therefore, it is difficult for the law enforcement agencies to apprehend cyberspace violators. However, governments can easily apprehend the individuals who violate the laws of the lands if any materials are printed in newspapers because the law enforcement agencies can access the details of the advertisers, and thereby, apprehend the criminals.

Conclusion

It is no doubt if one values democracy then they will have no choice but to join with the flow. In the new millennium, an historic opportunity for change emerged in the form of cyberspace, which indeed, is threatening printed newspapers. Powerful economic forces are pushing newspapers to take the force into cyberspace.

Dramatic hikes in newsprint prices and increases in postage prices are forcing paper publications into considering ways to leverage their content electronically, with many publications sampling multiple methods…an estimated 57 newspapers launched some form of on-line service in 1994. U.S. newspapers have been investing heavily to upgrade their printing facilities, having spent some $1.2 billion on such activities in 1995. For traditional print publishers, moving to an electronic format eliminates paper, printing presses, and postage — three of the industry’s biggest budget items.

As most scholars argued, the general public needs both printed media and cyberspace in politics in order to get a better idea of what is happening. Printed newspapers may currently be more politically influential than the Internet because there is less individual input in printed media, but as printed papers drop by the wayside, cyberspace will pick up the slack and become ever more influential in politics and all walks of daily life.

The United Press International CEO James Adams told the publishing industry executives while giving a keynote address to the Seybold seminar in New York in 1998 that the Internet revolution threatens to sweep away the traditional news media unless they recognize and exploit the opportunities the revolution has created. He said: “I believe we are watching the demise of the traditional media, as we have known it for much of this century. … The issue is unavoidable–either the media and publishing industries come to grips with the challenges and opportunities of the knowledge age, or you’re toast. Because if you don’t provide the knowledge that the people seek, they’ll find it somewhere. Even if they have to fashion it themselves…To meet the serious competition from the infosphere….every old media company must revolutionize…The infosphere is a place for revolutionaries. Join the revolution or die.”

The demise of newspapers and rise of cyberspace will impact society in greater ways, but it won’t create the demise of journalism, democracy, politics, and reading. People have so much to absorb from the Internet that it could create more confusion than benefit, and that may be the only serious negative effect on society. Further, the access to cyberspace will open up greater chances of having open forums, which are the principle ingredients of democracy. However, some may misuse cyberspace, so the legislatures around the world should work together with the United Nations to establish a body within the UN to monitor the activities of misusing cyberspace to enable positive engagement for a healthier society.

It is therefore considered as a drastic change engendered by technological advances and the Internet, which have caused anxiety among the printed newspaper practitioners, as well as the educators, in the communication field resulting in debates on the future of the main media-based dimensions of journalism—print, TV, radio¸ and online will have little or no negative aspects, except that everything will be shifted from printed to digital with modernization, with lessen pollution but more citizen participation. So, the printed newspapers, rather than labelling them as demised, can make reforms by embracing cyberspace to promote real democracy and contribute to global stability.

(Note: This is a research paper prepared by Satheesan Kumaaran)
(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)

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  1. Pingback: PART 3: The Fall of the Printed Newspaper and the Rise of … | U.S. Justice Talk - March 5, 2011

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