CAIRO: The government and mainstream media have recognised one of the most immediate impacts the Internet has had on commentary, as blogs continue to grow in popularity.
Blogs have turned many political pundits and subjugated individuals into successful online journalists, providing a variety of perspectives on current affairs that were often inaccessible in the mainstream media.
In Egypt, take the recent case of award-winning blogger Alaa Seif Al Islam, who has just been released following his detention at a pro-reform demonstration. Al Islam’s case brings to light the use of the blog as a tool for comment, but more importantly, for gaining publicity. His imprisonment allowed him to document his routine inside Tora prison and write an insiders view of life in an Egyptian prison whilst a global audience read his letters and drawings submitted via his wife.
Other pro-democracy activists inside the prison were mentioned and were able to consolidate themselves on the blog in a network of experiences, friends and values, all widely circulated using media speculation to popularise manalaa.net.
Sina Motallebi, an Iranian blogger who was similarly imprisoned after insulting Iran s Supreme Leader in comments submitted online, and Hao Wu in China, who was imprisoned for writing about underground Christian groups, are both examples of imprisonment due to regulated commentary These cases all highlight that certain governments consider blogs to be as accountable for their commentary as a news publication. Bloggers who were thrown into jail are simultaneously thrown into the media spotlight due to the global accessibility of their blogs, which gain more popularity after their author’s jail terms.
Officials at the Ministry of the Interior in Egypt were not available for comment, but political analysts suggest that Al-Islam’s release would not signify a relaxing of the government s stance on political commentary.
On his release Alaa said that “there s no going back now, we ll definitely be continuing our activities online.
Blogs are now playing a part in dissecting the events in countries where ordinary people are not able to comment on mainstream news in the public sphere.
The famous Baghdad Blogger, “Salam Pax, or Salam Al-Janabi, documented the situation in Baghdad during the Iraqi war in his blog “Where is Raed?
Prior to the occupation, Salam’s blog was consulted by journalists worldwide who were unable to talk to ordinary Iraqi’s due to the danger and restrictions in place on the foreign press. A similar example in Afghanistan occurred during America’s occupation in 2001, documented on the anonymous “Afghan warrior blog providing an unregulated perspective of life during the war and detailing the damage the occupation had caused.
The impact on the media has been equally as significant, as has the power to affect working journalists, such as in the case of Eason Jordan, former News Executive for CNN. Jordan alleged that U.S. soldiers were deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq and his comments were picked up by a blogger who was present when he privately made this claim. CNN did not report the comment, but it was soon circulated online among right-wing blogs in the U.S. that eventually led to the resignation of Jordan in the face of a public backlash. Eason Jordan was understood to be voicing official U.S. policy, although he stipulated that it was his personal opinion and nothing to do with his role within CNN. His comment was blown out of context and a campaign from right-wing bloggers forced Jordan to resign.
The mainstream media – MSM in blog shorthand – fired back at the bloggers, calling them trophy hunters and a pseudo-journalist lynch mob. In a talk show on MSNBC called Old Media Lost in Blogosphere, commentator Bill Press condemned bloggers as people with no credentials, no sources, no rules, no editors and no accountability.
Despite the government and sometimes the media’s often hostile responses toward the unregulated opinions that bloggers are able to express, the power that ordinary commentators now have will have a large impact on the way journalists operate and how governments regulate opinion.