Journalism And E-Governance

By Dr. I. Arul Aram
(arulram@yahoo.com)

The Internet has ushered in opportunities for people, particularly advocacy groups, to set the agenda for media -- attempting a topsy- turvy on the pattern of media setting the agenda for people. At least on paper, the Internet has made citizens conduct business with the government without leaving the comfort of their homes. Anyone, anytime can access information and give feedback. With journalism too creating awareness about information technology, the benefits of the Internet have started percolating. Information technology is often projected as a panacea for every problem. No doubt it can enhance the capability in every field, but it is not a substitute for economic and technical inputs. The 'virtual world' can at best strive for the betterment of the real world by spreading information. Even a small provision for downloading application forms has helped eliminate the tyranny of middlemen. E-governance could help reduce government and journalistic controls over information to a bare minimum, and develop a system that can administer in an efficient manner. This calls for a change in the mindset of the bureaucracy that still carries with it the 'babu' legacy. The bureaucracy often tries to hoard information and does not like transparency. But whatever little information put on government websites are accessed by journalists and they go in as inputs for stories.

The present e-governance dishes out information just one-way about government policies with a lot of statistics. The recipient of information is not allowed to have a participatory role. Even the material provided is of outdated stuff clouded with bureaucratic jargons. But the influence of journalism in publishing industry is making Internet messages communicative. The inverted pyramid structure of news writing (the most important aspect related first and a story written in the descending order of importance)has gained new meaning on the Web where the 'visitor' is all the more in a hurry and where the lesser important details can be relegated to hyperlinks.

Websites can host a large collection of data that would never appear in print due to cost factor. On the Internet, the 'information hole' is nearly infinite, and the publisher need not have to worry about the 'shrinking information hole'. The only requirement is that the matter needs to be properly split and links given to subheads so as to be user-friendly. The Internet gives the user the option of accessing the material of his/her choice. Websites, with their voluminous stuff catering to diverse interests, have helped to empower people and to check the tyranny of opinion-making. Newspapers too take to the Internet and they publish in full even those reports truncated in print for want of space.

The Internet also has the potential to break the stranglehold of media barons and journalists on public opinion. News media would feel the urge to be more people-oriented, with more and more people of diverse backgrounds being outspoken over the Net. Today anyone with a computer and an Internet link can be a publisher, and can air his/her views. So news media will be more sensitive to the issues concerning various sections of society. This, in turn, redefines and democratises journalism.

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