From Media Accountability to Violence: Audience Participation and Opposition in the Proposed LED Bulb Procurement Episode on Social Media
This paper aims to understand the consequences of social media mainly Facebook on the authority of traditional journalists /media organizations. In a review (Lewis and Molyneux 2018) on the studies about journalism and social media, writers pointed out that many scholars assumed that social media matter the most for journalists. The reviewers also maintained that in fact social media have negative consequences on journalists in terms of online harassment and trolling. They also noted that scholars in the field of journalism studies have yet fully to make sense of the larger power dynamics of social media such as who can speak, have impact and make people accountable.
To understand this dynamics, I have employed chaos paradigm of media power that Brian McNair (2006) elaborated to explain the shrinking power of elites due to globalization and digitization, and have engaged with Des Freedman (2014) who has critiqued this paradigm for celebrating unpredictability, dispersed power and giving less priority to order and contradictions of media power. I have examined the case of LED bulb purchasing in Nepal. On 7 May 2017, Nepali daily Kantipur published a news story alleging Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and Ministry of Energy of possible ‘financial irregularities’ in the proposed procurement of 20 million LED bulbs from India, without following competitive bidding process. Kulman Ghising, General Manager of NEA and Janardan Sharma, Energy Minister denied the possibility of such irregularities. Within 11 days, Kantipur published few news stories including two-follow-ups and an editorial stressing, that there might be the irregularities while other news media countered Kantipur highlighting the facts it ignored or hid. During these days, many audiences engaged on the Facebook pages of Kantipur Publications, and started campaigns against the organization and the journalists who wrote the news.
Based on interviews with journalists, and analysis of news and activities of audiences related to the case on Facebook, this paper shows that due to social media, audiences could challenge the representation of traditional media, demand for accountability and threaten both the journalists and media organizations. It means that the power of traditional media has shrunk, and journalists/media organizations have become more vulnerable to pervasive mediated violence as slander and threats on Facebook. It also underscores that news media can generate more revenue from the participation of audiences on Facebook. I argue that though the power of traditional media has shrunk and audience’s power has expanded, this has also made easier for news media to generate more revenue as this participation makes the content viral. I emphasize that we should not ignore this economic aspect while discussing the decreasing power of media organizations. This study helps us to understand new media environment where audiences have access to more information from many sources and to news media and journalists directly through social media, and news media depend on a new business model based on attention economy.
Freedman, Des. 2014. The Contradictions of Media Power. London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Lewis, Seth C., and Logan Molyneux. 2018. A Decade of Research on Social Media and Journalism: Assumptions, Blind Spots, and a Way Forward. Media and Communication 6 (4): 11–23. McNair, Brian. 2006. Cultural Chaos: Journalism and Power in a Globalised World. London and New York: Routledge.