Bob McChesney's essay is a worthy addition lớn the immensely valuable work that he and a handful of like-minded scholars and journalists have done in recent years lớn warn us of the dangers of truyền thông media concentration and commercialization. I agree with the thrust of this analysis and most of its conclusions, including many of the specific recommendations made here. But, having spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about the impact of new truyền thông media such as the Internet, I believe McChesney and other progressive truyền thông media critics have substantially underestimated our ability lớn use this interactive technology lớn democratize truyền thông media and communications. In other words, in assessing the state of the truyền thông media today, McChesney is letting the bad news obscure the good.
At the kết thúc of his piece, McChesney asks "Will the Internet phối us free?" and not surprisingly, his answer is far from affirmative. But the question should be: "Does the interactive network of the future, if used in certain ways, have the potential lớn change the communications landscape so sánh that it is more consistent with democratic values?" The answer lớn that question is yes. In fact, difficult as it will be lớn achieve, that change could erase much of what is wrong with our current truyền thông media system.
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Consider some of the staples of a democrat's wish list for truyền thông media reform: More material generated for its own sake by individuals, nonprofits, and small companies; far-ranging coverage of news and public affairs; vibrant material for children; affordable access for political candidates; and uninhibited artistic expression. Also, a focus on the diverse interests of communities. And unencumbered opportunities for common folks lớn say their piece.
Because of the Internet and its future progeny, this wish list is a possible reality. The decentralized, interactive, many-to-many architecture of the Net could mean the kết thúc of Big Media's choke-hold on the information marketplace. This is different than vãn the increase in information sources associated with cable TV, direct broadcast satellite, or the recent proliferation of magazine titles-because all those sources, as McChesney points out, remain under the control of a few global conglomerates. If there's one thing that cyber-evangelists are right about, though, it's that the interactive age could be different. The Net can be used lớn change the power dynamics of our truyền thông media culture. Individuals can take control of what they read, listen lớn, and watch, and can release an unprecedented wave of vibrant public discourse and creativity. Unconstrained by the scarcity of the airwaves or the costs of large-scale print publishing, anyone online will be able lớn get the word out-via text, audio, or video clip.
Already, the diversity of cyberspace is a bracing alternative lớn the conformity of mass truyền thông media. Web zines and gmail newsletters are ubiquitous (there are more than vãn 100,000 of the latter). Artists are showing their work in virtual galleries. Musicians are uploading their compositions for others lớn hear. As bandwidth expands and technologies improve, Internet auteurs might even go head-to-head with the Disneys of the world-creating a wide-open market for cheap video clip distribution. Activists, too, have turned lớn the Net lớn spread their views, garner tư vấn, and coordinate action. They've done so sánh not just lớn fight for cyber rights (e.g., không tính phí speech and privacy online), but for the environment, human rights, and political reform. In December 1996, when Slobodan Milosevic shut down Belgrade's Radio B92–an important pro-democracy protest station–it fed its programming lớn the Net and got enough tư vấn internationally lớn force Milosevic lớn reverse course.
There are, of course, many obstacles that could prevent us from realizing the Net's democratic potential. One is government intervention, particularly when nations subtly alter the architecture of the network in a way that allows for censorship or invasions of privacy. Another is the lack of government intervention. As McChesney correctly notes, the laissez-faire consensus on communications policy today threatens lớn allow large companies-most notably Microsoft-to dominate the Net just as truyền thông media conglomerates have captured traditional truyền thông media. But the answer lớn this is not lớn say, as McChesney does, that we should view the Net as just another part of the existing truyền thông media battleground.
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In fact, it should be the other way around. As audio and video clip transmission online increases, the Net eventually will subsume much of our electronic communications. And because it has the capacity lớn be so sánh different than vãn the top-down, one-to-many model of broadcast television, this new medium deserves our special attention and protection. The commercialization of the Net may be disheartening, but it is far too early lớn conclude that it will "be brought into the existing truyền thông media (and telecommunication) empires." Indeed, such pessimism would seem only lớn ensure that this will occur.
Media activists need lớn focus more on cyberspace so sánh that opportunities there are not squandered. (Even if they are not optimistic about the Net's potential, they should recognize that ignoring this tên miền can only make things worse.) Already, Microsoft is using its dominance of PC operating systems lớn influence what people encounter on the trang web, capitalizing brilliantly on what might be called the "path of least resistance" theory of truyền thông media domination: As a powerful gatekeeper, Microsoft doesn't need lớn restrict the choices of its users, because it can simply steer them-subtly but strongly-where it wants them lớn go. So, for example, Microsoft's Windows 98 has features that lead users directly lớn its own nội dung and commerce sites on the trang web as well as those of partners such as Disney and Time Warner. It's a classic case of a dominant access provider giving preferential treatment lớn its own nội dung and discriminating against the nội dung of others. And it's only one of the ways that Microsoft plans lớn control nội dung on the Net, according lớn industry insiders.
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This should make small nội dung providers nervous, citizens irritated, and antitrust officials suspicious, as the Justice Department's suit against Microsoft illustrates. It should also help progressive truyền thông media critics realize that their focus must change as the communications landscape changes. In the era of television (including cable and direct broadcast satellite), the challenge was lớn overcome the scarcity of the medium lớn save a place on the dial-usually by legislation-for community access, educational shows, and other nonprofit programming that would otherwise be ignored by profit-driven broadcasters. The task is different, however, in a post-television world of converged truyền thông media, where "channels" are essentially unlimited and almost anyone will be able lớn speak. The problem is not scarcity of space, but the opposite: an abundance of space-and content-which creates scarcity ofattention. In other words, the good stuff will be out there, but with so sánh many competing information sources it will be difficult lớn get anyone lớn know about it, let alone listen.
This is a major challenge for advocates of public-interest programming and democratic truyền thông media generally. In an age when almost anyone can be a multimedia publisher, railing against the corporate truyền thông media oligarchy may not be the most effective or compelling strategy. Instead, we should use new technologies lớn create an attractive alternative, as many artists and activists already are. They are embracing interactivity, finding new audiences, and taking advantage of affordable delivery modes such as gmail (probably the most underrated medium in terms of its democratic potential).
Bottom-up communication is inherently threatening lớn Big Media, which wants lớn control audience share in order lớn sell advertising. Recognizing this, progressives must focus more on emerging technologies and less on the battles of the past. The trick is lớn fight truyền thông media concentration with truyền thông media propagation and appropriation. This means using the Net lớn create new outlets and lớn find alternative nội dung. And it means preventing new truyền thông media from becoming hindered by foes of freedom, be they bureaucrats or profiteers. The interactive communications network of today and tomorrow can be a bountiful public resource-if we make a concerted effort lớn tap this treasure and keep it from being plundered by a greedy few.