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Are the media colonising the blogosphere?

I have been asked by this newspaper to be a contributor to its blogospherical initiative Thought Leader. This is my maiden input. At first, I was sceptical of the newspaper’s invitation. Well, I still am. I thought to myself: whatever it is we call the “blogosphere” is meant to be deinstitutionalised, far removed from the institutional strictures characteristic of the mainstream media. But, it seems, nothing will escape the tentacles of mainstream media.

The blogosphere, affording an opportunity to people ordinarily with little or no access to the traditional media of communication, such as newspapers, radio and television, has become an instant hit. It is an example of what it means to communicate, sometimes communicating to no one in particular. There have been instances in which some bloggers have complained about receiving few or no responses to their messages, raising the question about the communicative potential of the medium.

But people want to indulge themselves; they want to “talk”, even if no one seems to be actively “listening” to them. The blogosphere provides that opportunity. It seems the traditional media are recognising the potential of this space. Is it for altruistic reasons? Is it for purposes of expanding the bounds of democratic expression, with greater citizen involvement? Is it because of the promise of commercial benefit? I am inclined to think in terms of the less noble objective of “hooking” the actual and the potential market on to their media “product”. And guess what? Advertising clearly plays a role here. It sure plays a role on this forum!

We must remember that not too long ago, many in the developed world had invested their hopes of an economically bright future in the so-called dot.com boom. But it was not long before this boom turned into bust. It seems to me that it was only then that most traditional media, which had been repositioning themselves to reap from the seed of the dot.com garden of roses, suddenly started thinking in terms of the more altruistic goal of using the internet for championing “democracy”, “citizenship participation”, “human rights” and so on.

But, in reality, this amounts to a media colonisation of cyberspace, complete with the carrot of inclusivity and the stick of commercialism. While opening the door to “thought leaders”, and in a sense legitimising them as such, the newspaper is institutionalising freedom of expression. By naming some of us as “thought leaders”, the newspaper is delegitimising other forms of thought. Or is it? Who is a “thought leader”, anyway? Whose thought is being foregrounded? By implication, whose thought is being backgrounded? What are the terms of engagement?

Clearly, all such terms seem to be editorially provided for by the newspaper. What mode of address must be used in this institutionalised forum? Even this seems to have been predetermined, ostensibly to avoid “defamation”, and so on. These are examples of the institutionalised character of a blogosphere colonised by traditional media. These are critical questions which, while we appreciate the initiative by the newspaper, must be continually asked and answered.

With that, I launch this, my first contribution as a “thought leader”.