We Media, continued

I’m at the second day of We Media, which will have more voices from the world and the blogosphere.

We start with Tom Glocer, head of Reuters, (his last speech here) who says that the plumbing (read: media) doesn’t matter, the message does. Note again that the smartest media execs in the world are trying their best to throw off the shackles of their media. Reuters’ media history includes horses, pigeons, boats, and wires. He says that Reuters has an advantage over other media, trapped in schedules, because they’ve always been 24/7. Note that he is competing with those in other media.

He emphasizes the speed at which both development and debate are evolving. He’s quoting lots of Technorati stats (Dave Sifry, across the room, is visibly kvelling): in the last two months, 5 million people started blogs, which is as many as live in centra London. He points to Technorati’s hockey-stick chart and says, “This doesn’t tell me that the world is lazy, that the world is apathetic, that people don’t care about debating serious issues.” But he points then to statistics of falling participation in elections. “It’s not because of an apathetic electorate. People are engaged…. Look at the almost violent debate in the blogosphere… Maybe it’s that people feel their voices are not getting through in the political process…. People seem to feel that they are getting more investment in blogging…. than they are by simply going to the polling place.” In other words, he’s asking whether citizens’ media is becoming a proxy for civic participation. I’m not sure voting is the only gauge of civic engagement; it’s an important one, but it’s not the only way to participate.

Now he raises the issue of trust and gives examples of mistakes in media. He says that he is firmly against the notion of putting up the walls and allowing only professionals to report. He says there needs to be a welcome to “semiprofessionals” (not sure what he means by that. “There are more people out there who want to contribute …. than who want to make us look like monkeys with hoaxes.” As an example of Reuters’ openness, he points to a new Reuters relationship with Global Voices.

A questioner says the language we’ve heard these two days from big media guys is about “incorporating” citizen journalism in their journalism. He objects. And he asks what it is going to take to get big media to change behavior. He gets applause. Glocer says that by incorporating, “I don’t mean crush, suck the life of, and appear in my frame…. I mean have the content appear alongside with no indication of what’s better.” He says that Reuters journalists are reading and quoting blogs. He says he reads “a bunch of blogs.” (Contrast that with Bobbie Johnson’s chronicle of a BBC exec’s alleged blog reading yesterday.) He’s asked whether it’s true that nonjournalists at Reuters are told to watch out for and record news. Glocer says it’s a dream of his to get a photo of his picked up on the wire.

: Emily Bell adds later that she believes the decline in political participation is because “politicians are not in the debate.”

: Now we have Rebecca MacKinnon of Globa Voices moderating panels from around the world. First up: Asia and China. Marcus Ziang heads a mobile blogging company in China with 2 million phone numbers reading the 100,000 blogs in their community. He gives many examples of the use from housewives, workers, students. But he adds that a motive for starting the company was not “democracy. We don’t want to overthrow this government. We see a good business.” Too bad he feels he has to add that. David Schlesinger says that the internet in China serves an urban elite and most people are using it to express themselves but he argues that it is “not a political change for China.” But what is the chicken and the egg in that equation: Is it not political because it can’t be? Michael Tong, former head of China.com here via satellite from Hong Kong, says that the internet and mobile are entertainment platforms. The group agrees that mobile is becoming the more dominant platform. Rebecca asks whether Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop is not the right solution. The panelists say there there is still room and need for PCs.

It took a long time to bring up the issue of China’s internet censorship. Rebecca asks whether the Chinese government woud lose power if there were not censorship. Reuters’ David Schlesinger says no and he argues that there is a small “no-go zone” about democracy, Falun Gang, and criticizing the government (I’d say that’s fairly larger) and that there is no organized opposition to the Chinese government. Well, if they could discuss these topics, perhaps the internet would be the means to organize. Chicken, meet egg. Schlesinger says that the unwritten agreement in China is that people can express themselves via commerce and entertainment but not politics. But who says that is an agreement? That sounds like a tyranny to me. Dave Sifry finally brings up Google and Yahoo. Tong and Xiang give the party line of both companies: If you do business in the country you must pay by the country’s rules. “So basically you’re a moral relativist on this?” You go, Dave. They walked on eggshells and broke no eggs. A report from the backchannel says that people would like to talk to the panelists off the panel — in other words, away from the eggs and the danger there.

I do not buy the argument at all that there is any people on earth who do not want to be in control and talk about their governments. That is a corollary of the argument made by some that some people are not ready for democracy. That is a bad mix of ignorance and bigotry. And I so ranted, arguing that we in journalism and media have not addressed the ethical, moral issues of dealing with censorship in China and elsewhere.

: Rebecca begins the South Asian session asking whether different people approach the relationship to government differently or whether there is a universal right to free speech.

Nitin Desai of the UN says that censorship in India is impossible; it is too diverse and vast and efforts to censor have failed. And he says later that with that diversity of religion and language, the only way for the country to stay together is to be a free country. He says he doesn’t see a problem in India because the government doesn’t like media. “It’s always a healthy sign when the government thinks the media is biased.” He says India has a right-to-information act and he suggests the UK should, too. He says the media itself cannot do it all “unless you have rule of law, unless you have a democratic process, unless the government is running scared.” He says later that “freedom of speech is an absolute moral right.”

Neha Veswanathan of Global Voices (who has made very good comments through these two days) says that when the Pakistani government blocked Blogger.com, a campaign rose up online to unblock them and the government did. She says that bloggers in Nepal are turning out to be allies of the nation’s mainstream media, fighting for the press’ rights. Sunil Lulla of Times Global Broadcasting (a Times of India/Reuters venture) says TV is the medium that is growing explosively in India. Desai later pushes him to make make better links between big and citizens’ media. “Citizens media generates knowledge,” Desai says.

: There’s now a panel on Arab media. Unfortunately, the internet access is dicky, as they say over here. So I’m grabbing what I can.

Rami Khouri of the Lebanon Daily Star addresses what he says are misconceptions about Arab media. He says that the idea that the media lead antiwestern thought is wrong; he argues that, as in the West, media is a reflection of the people. He also argues that a content analysis of Al-Jazeera and other Arab networks would show that their coverage is “more compete, nuanced, …. and balanced than any American network.” OK, let’s have that analysis. If the BBC can be analyzed for the balance of its coverage in the Middle East, so can Al Jazeera et al.

(Sorry for bad blogging on this important topic; I’ve been unlucky with local wifi and my own server.)

Tarek Atia of Cairolive says that in the Arab world, people are hearing multiple media voices and he hears people asking now what various outlets have to say on a story. And each of those outlets does not tell what the others are saying. Thus, he argues, aggregation will be a very important.

We hearing from a panelist in Iraq now. It is interrupted by helicopters going over. And when that dies down, we hear the call to prayer in the background. Zuhair Al-Jezairy says that Iraq has poor journalism training and they need to send young people elsewhere to get that. (Note Zeyad coming to U.S. to do just that.)

Adam Powell says that USC, where he works, is doing content analysis of the Arab TV networks.

: To my surprise, Reuters wrote a speech about Richard Dreyfuss’ screed.

: In the African panel, the Global Voices person in Kenya is answering the stock PC question that’s always posed at events such as this: Is it right to put money into technology when other problems like water are not solved. “That is crap,” she said. She’s tired of hearing that argument, that they should wait for internet access until every disease is cured. I agreed here and here. Other panelists say that if there had been citizens media, Rawanda may have been explosed earlier and another says that such coverage in Zimbabwe helped there. Another emphasizes that not everyone has to read blogs for them to be useful and effective at getting news and viewpoints out.