The most recent edition of The Humanitarian, the newsletter from the Australian Red Cross, contained an article titled “Can blogging save the world?” Saving the world is a somewhat large expectation to put on blogging, but there is frequent speculation about just how significant it is or might be in the future.
The clearest demonstration that blogging can be politically powerful is that many governments are making serious efforts to censor it. The latest example comes in this report from The Age on ” Fiji’s war on bloggers“.
The military in Fiji is moving to shut down access to anti-government weblogs after unsuccessful attempts to find those responsible for the sites.Senior military commander Colonel Pita Driti has told Pacific Radio that access to the sites would be closed down this afternoon.
Internet technology in Fiji is provided through only one provider, Fiji International Telecommunications Limited (FINTEL).
A FINTEL spokesman confirmed he had met with members of the the interim administration this morning and been asked to shut off access to the weblogs.
He said they asked that access be cut off to the blog for “national security” reasons.
Fiji joins countries like China, Iran and Egypt, just to name a few, in trying to silence dissenting views that are trying to be heard online.
It would obviously suit me to push the line which sometimes gets argued that politicians using blogs are revolutionising politics and opening a whole frontier of democracy. I think this is a gross exagerration. Blogs and other web-based communication have the potential to provide the general public with more meaningful engagement with the political process, and I’d like to see some more genuine blogs by Australian politicians, but I don’t think people should overstate its potential as far as its use by politicians and political parties goes.
However, the area where I think blogging does have significant political value and potential is not for politicians, but for people outside the small group of political and media elites who try to shape and control political ‘debate’ and information. This is particularly important when opportunities to get different views aired are constrained.
I don’t think there is much value in trying to create some sort of contest between ‘old’ journalism and ‘new’ forms of so-called citizen journalism. There are infinite variations on how views are expressed and the medium through which they are communicated. A simple, stark way of demonstrating the overlap is this report from The Committee to Protect Journalists, which stated that “The number of journalists jailed worldwide for their work increased for the second consecutive year, and one in three is now an Internet blogger, online editor, or Web-based reporter.”
If people want to claim that blogging is starting to “make it” as a competitor to traditional media, I guess they could point to that statistic, but it’s not the sort of competition anyone would want to win.