Journalists’ role has changed with social media – Don | Sunday Observer

Journalists’ role has changed with social media – Don

14 August, 2022
Wijayananda Rupasingha
Wijayananda Rupasingha

If religion is born on trust, then mass media has become a religion today because people trust mass media. The mass media becomes the Fourth Estate that holds power in a country after the Legislature, Executive, and the Judiciary. It seems that the role of the mass media has been taken over by social media at present.

However, the media’s compilation of information has responsibility. Even a minor mistake caused by a press release can cause not only a character assassination but also a murder. Making a mistake is not as easy as correcting it. Today, we are discussing the media’s behaviour and the media’s responsibility in the recent turbulent situations with Senior Lecturer, Department of Mass Communication Studies at the University of Kelaniya Wijayananda Rupasingha.

Q : What is mass media?

A: We generally refer to mass media as a method used to provide information to the public. That means the method of giving information to a large number of people at the same time. But even if this is analysed simply, its form has changed slightly. In the past, we used to call mass media the means of informing people who are scattered in different places, but now the nature of mass media has changed, especially with the advent of the Internet and social media.

Mass media does not always mean the information given from one place by using one reliable source, but the amount of information given by different people from different places.

In other words, in the past, we used to see that the journalists working in the media were those who received some training, those who had some educational qualifications, and those who worked with responsibility. But today, with the advent of social media, the role of a journalist has changed, and every person in society has become a distributor of information because things like citizen journalism have come into being. That means a camera can make a video clip and can also make a voice recording.

Everyone is involved in the process of information and news distribution, the role played by a journalist. But today we cannot give the definition of mass media as it was given earlier because information comes from everywhere.

So, the only difference is that they are not trained journalists and willing to spread anything and everything in any way. Today, people do not accept the mass media as widely distributed newspapers, radios, and television but rather the large amount of information received through social media. So, the shape of the mass media has changed today.

Q: What is media responsibility?

A: This is something that has developed in the world for a long time as a concept. The concept of social responsibility arose in the world from the sensational news (sensational journalism) that arose in the American media in the 1800s and early 1900s. We also call this “yellow journalism.” That means speaking to people’s feelings and emotions. Love, romance, hate, curiosity, and things related to those things are involved in distributing more information.

As a solution to this, a theory called “Social Responsibility” was developed after the Second World War. It means that the responsibility of the mass media is to provide people with important information; information that is important for their daily lives; something that can be improved from where they are in their society; something that improves people’s educational level. In the past, this was often considered to be the concept of responsibility.

The media goes ahead and sees the future and present a certain amount of information. For example, the media reports that there is a power cut. But it is not about reporting that there is a power cut. Before it happens, they have to report what is causing this electricity crisis? Why does that happen? Where is it going? What are the shortcomings? What are the alternatives?

It is the media’s responsibility to find out about those matters and report them to the people. Otherwise, it is not the responsibility of the media to report on what is happening at that time. Before any incident happens, we see the role of sentry. If something harmful happens in society, the media should do the work of warning, knowing that something harmful is bound to happen.

Their mission is to give truthful and reliable information to the people. And to some extent, they should reduce their loyalties. There are also political and economic biases. Without those things, it is best to deal with social responsibility in any way.

Q: What is the responsibility of the media in a crisis?

A: In times of crisis, we often see the media always reports only about the crisis. But before the crisis is reported, the most important part of the media is to discuss the possibility of such a crisis before the crisis. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the media has to report about the preventive measures that can be taken as a pre-crisis situation. It is the responsibility of the media to report the situation before the crisis and find solutions or alternatives to it.

The next step is during the crisis. The media should report on the crisis in a way that gives people a good understanding of the situation and the possible results, the solutions that can be taken, and how to get out of it to a better state.

The media should not scare people, but make them understand the crisis. It is necessary to engage in reporting in such a way that the people are not oppressed during a crisis.

The media should report news responsibly and find solutions to the situation.

The third point is the post-crisis situation. They have to follow up on the crisis. If there are problems, frauds, or corruption during the crisis, the media should report them to the public. While trying to get rid of the crisis, it is possible to refrain from reporting the news that interferes with it, but it is the responsibility of the media to follow up after the crisis has subsided.

For example, in times of a crisis, an inquiry should be made about the performance of each sector such as the security forces, the performance of government officials, voluntary services and political parties. The media should report in three main steps: the situation before the crisis (pre-crisis situation), during the crisis, and the situation after the crisis (post-crisis situation).

Q: Who should take responsibility for journalists?

A: There are problems to define a journalist. But mainstream journalists have been issued an official government identity card so that they can run the service without interruption. All government officials and security forces have been instructed to allow a person wearing that identity card to carry out their duties without any hindrance.

There is another issue: they have gone beyond the role of a journalist. That means they have taken the role of an activist. When they play the roles of an activist and a journalist, it is probably impossible to distinguish who is the journalist and who is the activist. Journalists should know their limit.

Q: What are your thoughts on social media responsibility?

A: This is a complicated situation. Other media are institutionally regulated in some way. It is through social media that people are motivated to get more information, especially the younger generation, who use social media as a means of getting information. There are many problems in the world regarding the reliability of social media.

For example, in the concept of fake news, one can spread misinformation in an organised manner. Those who use social media more often accept misinformation as real and reliable information. Because of this, media literacy should be popularised among the users of social media. There are organisations of fact-checkers, but anyone can be a fact-checker. When they see a photo, a post, a link, when they see news, they have to be media literate enough to understand the credibility of what it says.

For example, the mass media has come to social media. Mass media maintains some social media pages for themselves and they maintain social media links. And then, the responsibility in the mass media can also be seen in social media.

Information receivers must have an understanding of the reliability of the things that are propagated only on social media without mass media. For example, social media sites such as Facebook are now reviewed by their community standards, ethics, and standards adopted by institutions, and when they find out that some posts are fake, they remove some pages after reporting.

Q: What are your views on media responsibility?

A: All media should be regulated. Media is a business, and the mass media is an industry. There must be somebody to regulate such fields. We think that the regulation of the State is not good. That is a popular opinion. If government regulation is influential, we should move to a self-regulatory system.

If they do not follow the Government’s process, they should resort to self-regulation methods within their industry. If this is not addressed, the freedom of the industry may be restricted in some way by something caused by the Government or by other influential institutional structures.