Digital media's impact still unclear, says rights advocate

(Photo: Reuters / David Gray)Spectators take pictures during play at a golf event at the Jinsha Lake Golf Club in Zhengzhou, Henan Province October 29, 2012.

An advocate for communication as a human right says it is not yet clear how the rise of digital and social media will impact the mass media in addressing societal inequalities or improving communication among people.

Phillip Lee, an official with the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), presented his views in a paper at a symposium in Erlangen, Germany which took place between February 7-8.

"Clearly while there are overlaps between these two paradigms, their future convergence and consequent impact are not yet clear," he wrote in a paper entitled "Communication Rights: A Global Perspective."

Lee, the WACC Deputy Director of Programs, placed the communications platforms in the context of the changing debates about communications as a human right.

"[W]hat we seem to be witnessing today is a shift towards debating communication rights in the framework of the potential offered by digital platforms and social media, with pressing claims for open access and user-generated content as the nexus of democratic freedom and accountability," he wrote in a paper entitled "Communication Rights: A Global Perspective."

Lee highlighted concerns about social media which arose during the shooting tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut in December.

"Newspapers and broadcasters that carried the story moment by moment initially relied on unsubstantiated facts and social media sources," he said. "One day after the event, the police also noted misinformation on social media sites that was pejorative and detrimental."

Lee also quoted from a recent New York Times article where author described the scene at one location where members working for mass media outlets "clogged quiet roads, established glowing encampments of lights and cameras, established glowing encampments of lights and cameras, and showed up in force at church services and public memorials."

To conclude, his raised a number of questions which he says are still unanswered.

"How will digital media platforms and locally generated user content contribute to greater political and economic stability, to greater equality and respect for human dignity?"

What do they [digital and social media platforms] signify for communication? For truth? Do they help or hinder? Do they lead to greater isolation or greater connectedness? These are questions that we might ponder when we reflect on communication rights," he wrote.

The symposium was held at the University of Erlangen, Germany on February 7-8, 2013. It was titled "Communication Rights for All – Communication rights and media."

The event was jointly organized by WACC and the Department of Christian Media Studies and Communication of Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in honour of German theologian Professor Bernhard Klaus, founder of the Institute for Christliche Publizistik.

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