During World War II. Germany’s Adolf Hitler was a master of propaganda and misinformation, through his “Genius of Spin” Joseph Goebbels. Later, the allies and western countries borrowed a page from Hitler’s book and started dropping leaflets to divide the enemies’ camp. US Franklin D. President Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (O.W.I.) in 1942 and an affiliated Writers’ War Board, while British Political Warfare Executive (P.W.E.) was created the previous year (1941) by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill using it to disseminate propaganda that would damage enemy morale. Within four years, the British Broadcasting Company’s foreign language used radio stations, postcards and leaflets to do the damage. Today, the “leaflets” are in a different form and more portable. The Old Media is now confronted with the New Media.
The New Media poses a great problem in Nigeria. We were already battling “Cash and Carry” journalism and now it has been compounded by electronic witch hunt, blackmail, sycophantic reporting, and the plagiarism violating cut-and-paste reportage. There has always been problems with regulating media practitioners and this has become exacerbated by the proliferation of New Media.
Anyone with a computer or hand-held device such as android or I-phone can become an arm-chair journalist and claim to be practicing journalism. Or is it as Karol Jakubowicz puts it that we have the problem of “Media or media-like activities performed by non-media actors.” Journalism is “the publication of accounts of contemporary events, conditions or persons of possible significance or interest to the public, based on information believed to be reliable.” (McQuail, (2008).
Adolf Hitler‘s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (“Genius of Spin”) Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels
So, what exactly is New Media? Or should I ask, what are New Media since Media is the plural of medium. For simplicity, I will refer to the phrase “New Media” in the singular as a compound noun. New Media has been broadly defined “as the ability to combine text, audio, digital video, interactive multimedia, virtual reality, the Web, email, chat, a cell phone, a PDA such as the Palm Pilot or BlackBerry, computer applications, and any source of information accessible by a personal computer.” (Robert Logan, Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan). See also The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich and a multiple authors 463 page publication titled “New Media – A Critical Introduction (2009 , Routledge, 2nd Edition).
A great dilemma with the New Media, is the legal ramifications. The United Nations is still trying to wrap itself around policing internet crimes, and will someday have to deal with issues of defamation in New Media. Defamation is really a legal Siamese twins. One is libel (written) and the other is slander (spoken). Both must be published to be actionable in law. The video on YouTube is published slanderous material and the written story on Facebook is potentially libelous.
As an international lawyer, I know the issues surrounding in persona jurisdiction, not to talk of subject matter jurisdiction. Briefly, in persona jurisdiction is jurisdiction over the person (corpus) so that you can sue them, while subject matter jurisdiction usually refers to which court (place) can hear a lawsuit. This simplified explanation means that to sue someone in a particular court for a particular matter, you must have both personal and subject matter jurisdiction. With the advent of New Media, the issue of jurisdiction has become complicated. Assuming you want to sue a journalist for defamation, where do you file the lawsuit? The journalist sitting on his computer in China that fabricates or obfuscates a story that is derogative to you, may be unreachable. Do you use his computer IP address? Some of us that travel and write can tell you of scenario where a story is started in Nigeria, sent to the media House while you are transiting via Wi-Fi at London Heathrow Airport, only to edit it in North America.
Recently, two journalists were casting aspersions on each other because they both believed they had to do this to zealously represent their principals (clients). The words published on Facebook and WhatsApp were defamatory at best. Where then are the ethics or rules of engagement? Let us not forget so soon the last general elections and the role of the New Media in perpetration of lies before, during and after the elections.
There is so much misinformation going out. Immediately, President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in, a list of his alleged ministers emerged in the social media, which was a hoax. Even before Senate President Bukola Saraki opened the official list from the Presidency on September 30, the New Media was at it again. Just last week, phantom portfolios were given to the confirmed Ministers by the New Media. This again proved to be wrong. This must be stopped. We must regulate our runaway New Media locally, nationally and internationally.
There is a plethora of writings encouraging Self-regulation and co-regulation of new media content globally. The Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and the National Assembly should get on board to control the situation. We can look for guidance from the Global Network lnitiative, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 bill submitted to the US House of Representatives.
On the positive side, new Media has been instrumental in dissemination of urgently needed information. In fact, some credit New Media with propelling the Arab Springs, although there are abundant evidence to the contrary. It has also been stated that “New media must be understood as part of a wider information arena in which new and old media form complex interrelationships.” (BLOGS AND BULLETS II: NEW MEDIA AND CONFLICT AFTER THE ARAB SPRING).
New Media is now indispensable. It must be used to do things in a new, but accountable way. Change, they say, has come.
*Alex O. Atawa-Akpodiete, a public Affairs Analyst and Media Consultant, writes from Washington DC.
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