A few months ago, I was asked to speak in a sociology class at the University of Lethbridge. The topic was taking back the community and the media. At one point, the discussion turned to the democratization of the media.
At the time, the Alberta Legislature had recently banned what it had considered non-journalistic sources. The most noteworthy was the right-wing media outlet The Rebel, but other outlets, such as Daveberta, were also restricted from attending government press events.
Historically, media referred to large media outlets (such as TV and radio stations and newspapers). These media outlets were gatekeepers of the information and news we consumed: they decided what information to present and how to present it. Because such media outlets required large amounts of startup capital, they were controlled by a small number of people.
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The media outlets grew used to the idea that they were an exclusive club, with exclusive access to exclusive events (such as media scrums and press conferences). That’s changing.
In July 2010, I (along with 6 other volunteers) launched a citizen journalism site called Lethbridge News. It’s defunct now, and I had stepped down (for personal reasons) as editor in chief about 6 months before it folded.
Most of the traditional media outlets were unwelcoming to us; some were hostile even. We were constantly labelled as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate. If you have an extra 20 minutes, you can watch the following presentation I gave toward the end of my tenure on this particular issue:
The problem with labelling citizen journalism as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate is that it implies that a mechanism exists with which to accredit, certify, and legitimize media outlets. This is the stance the Government of Alberta took in February of this year.
In reality, such a mechanism does not exist. There is no certifying body for media outlets. Anyone can create one.
And we had. A successful one at that. We had the largest social media following of any local media outlet at the time, and we garnered far more engagement on the stories we published than other outlets. I boldly assert that we changed how local news outlets used social media.
When the government says they are banning a group of journalists from a media event because they aren’t from a legitimate media outlet, they are using an arbitrary measure to do so. It is code for restricting access to information to an elite group of people.
The future of media is in the democratization of it. Putting information in the hands of the people is something any democratically elected government should value. By limiting who receives information and thus who disseminates it and how they disseminate it, we infringe on two basic freedoms: freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
I am far from being one of The Rebel’s target market, but the slant they take in their news stories is irrelevant to me. What is relevant to me on this issue is that any government shouldn’t be silencing the press, whatever form that press should take.