By Tafi Mhaka
I’m afraid so. The funeral was held on Wednesday. Media titans like BBC, Al-Jazeera and CNN were buried six feet deep under an avalanche of distrust after the much anticipated election of Hillary Clinton died a stillbirth. It was a dark and miserable day for myself, close friends and family; a sombre and teary-eyed affair, which exacerbated the shroud of hopelessness that engulfed the liberal half of the free world. Donald Trump had won the election in the USA and buried the aura of the traditional media in one fell swoop.
Nobody at the wake feigned a smile or celebrated the longevity of the media as this sad but seminal juncture in history stared down on us: the demise of the media had laid bare the suddenness and emptiness of this and the next life. The white and blue flag of the United Nations draped over the black and white casket in front of us said it all: this generation no longer needed the traditional media as much as they used to; its time had come and passed on much like the old Kodak camera taking photographs of the small number of funeral-goers in attendance.
The media had perished all of a sudden and nobody seemed to know about its passing; indeed nobody cared much about as people began to fret about the conservative reality on the horizon: Equity markets plunged in Europe and Asia, as investors, who had expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidential poll, panicked and dumped stocks; the price of gold shot up; and the Mexican Peso fell by 13% against the US dollar in its worst slide since 1994; thousands of protestors holding placards denouncing Donald Trump gathered in New York in a massive display of liberal defiance; and world leaders queued up to send messages of congratulations and support to Donald Trump. International diplomacy and economic expediency settled in seamlessly as empathy for Hillary Clinton faded fast. The media realised it had lost much of its credibility as a result of its stubborn refusal to metamorphose into a 21st century medium.
Where journalists report on the sexual abuse of children and the recruitment of child soldiers in South Sudan and violence in poverty-stricken favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; the prospect of a 19-year-old woman with a 12 megapixel camera on her phone and an Instagram Page with 830 000 or so followers reporting on the happenings in the shantytowns has become a real possibility.
Where journalists risk being captured and killed by religious extremists dressed in washed up military fatigues; monsters who rape girls and women in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria; villagers who have the means to record some of the worst atrocities to befall humanity may find a space in the media arena.
Where journalist risk being beheaded by small armies of men killing villagers in the Amazonia-like forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo; a local with a smartphone and WhatsApp account is equipped to send reports from deep in the war-torn jungles of central Africa.
Where journalists held discussions with personalities like John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Sting, Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder; a social media phenomenon may now share videos of her times with Tinashe in Los Angeles and share pictures of Katy Perry, J Cole, Schoolboy Q, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons at a Billboard party in Hollywood.
Where journalists met leaders like Yasser Arafat of the PLO in Gaza and Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem and produced analytical pieces for readers in the Middle-East and beyond; a new Facebook and Twitter generation is making and spreading the news on social media and laying to rest the ways of the past.
Old timers such as CNN, Time Magazine, The Guardian and New York Times and another legend from the Media Hall of Fame that most millennials have never heard of, like Newsweek, are reeling from lost revenues and diminished moral legitimacy. Newsweek suffered losses so heavy it buried its print edition on December 31, 2012 and established a digital magazine called Newsweek Global. But the print edition resurfaced on March 7, 2014. This came after IBT bought Newsweek from its parent company, IAC. The struggles faced by the media cannot mask the good it did for democracy and humanity in world affairs.
The media did well when it reported on the Fall of Communism in the USSR in 1989; the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in New York; the Iraq War in 2003; Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; and the OJ Simpson trial in 1991; the genocide in Rwanda; the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt and the birth of South Sudan in 2011.
But despite a multiplicity of successes the media is to blame for its demise. Both independent media and state media alike have lurched hopelessly in search of a space in the hearts and minds of people in recent times but have played second fiddle to new media platforms.
A new study from Pew Research claims that 62 percent of people get their news from social media, with 18 percent doing so very often.
As expected, the top social media news source is Facebook.
Why are people abandoning the traditional media? Events that shaped the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2011 may offer us clues.
The one-sidedness of the narratives reported by state media in Egypt during the Arab Spring in 2011 proved to be a boon for new media platforms. While the state media sought to mislead people and drum up support for a then-embattled President Hosni Mubarak and dispel notions of an imminent revolution in the North African state, social media activists using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram dished up news of people fighting and dying for a new Egypt and people could relate to this reality.
People who feel censored or ignored by mainstream media channels have turned to new media platforms. Twitter helped President-elect Donald Trump communicate with his 15 million followers on the microblogging site and millions of other supporters in America during his campaign. Donald Trump provided soundbites in support or opposition to people or policy in controversial tweets that largely used less than 140 characters.
Here is a sexist tweet from Donald Trump about a reporter who happens to be a woman: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you have a young, and beautiful, piece of ass”.
Donald Trump also tweeted racist remarks about President Barrack Obama. Here is one of these tweets: “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive image on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore”.
Donald Trump sidestepped the media for obvious reasons: the liberal mainstream media devoted much of its resources and time to building a case for the election of Hillary Clinton and utilised a series of national polls to project her as the front-runner in the just concluded election. But the result that the same media reported in the early hours of 9 November beggared belief for most people around the world. How did the media get it wrong all along? That is the question doing the rounds in the mainstream media this week.
There is plenty of speculation in the media about why Donald Trump won the election, which includes: Donald Trump successfully rallied white working class and middle-class voters to support him; African-American voters, who voted in droves for Barrack Obama, did not express the same enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in this election; the decision by FBI director James Comey to announce that his agency had reopened the investigation into the use of a private email address and server by Hillary Clinton may have provided fresh impetus to Donald Trump at a time his campaign appeared to be dead in the water. Still: this does not explain the inaccuracy of polls the media referred to for so long during the campaign.
The media can be used to prop up a weak candidate who has the support of the media-aligned political elites of the day; as is the case of Hillary Clinton. Only Fox TV and Fox Business lent Trump a stream of coverage he felt at ease with. But media like the BBC and CNN had us ready to pop champagne bottles in celebration of another milestone in American history on Wednesday morning.
The devil should be in the details. So what happened to the devil in this case? Did the grim reaper disappear while CNN and BBC pollsters were not watching and leave the polls devoid of any substance? I must admit I am no Donald Trump fan and I have never liked or watched The Apprentice. But I would expect pollsters employed by the CNNs and BBCs of this world to get their numbers right and not try to sway public opinion like Egyptian State TV circa 2011 should I not?
The traditional media is like a dinosaur in a theme park; it is a powerful and glorified symbol of the past. Accessibility to instant messaging and social media platforms, together with the availability of easy to use design software, has made it simpler for people to become newsmakers and makers of news as well. Some report on real news about their lives, families or communities; others, well, produce their own content for the pleasure of their followers in video or pictorial formats or easy to read reports in a style called Citizen Journalism. It tends to have much less of an authoritative position unlike old school media that is preachy and patronising to be honest.
The traditional media is a powerful tool. It can be used to inform and build societies; that is, it can be used as a medium for social development and cohesiveness. It can be used in economic spheres to help create wealth or jobs or be used in political spaces to engage citizens and help implant an all-inclusive democratic dispensation in society; it can be used to fracture society and stifle opposition to policies or politicians; leaders may use it to rally people to kill; like in Rwanda, where Radio Rwanda and Radio Mille Collines and Kangura, a local paper, were used by politicians to spread hate speech and incite genocide.
The media can be used to suppress the political will of the people or smother the opinions of opposition leaders; like in Egypt, where the police routinely detain and torture journalists and political activists they say are aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to a report by Freedom House, an independent media watchdog organisation, Egypt was the world’s second worst jailer of journalists in 2015. But the desire to influence public perception is not limited to authoritarian regimes.
The left-wing media in the USA sheltered Hillary Clinton in a nest of fabricated ascendancy as the polls they used consistently reported she would win the election right up to the minute voting centres across the USA opened their doors to voters on November 9; in fact the numbers reported by polling organisations might have looked so promising for Hillary Clinton her camp may have misjudged the gargantuan challenge Donald Trump posed.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan may have also felt Donald Trump would lose. He had advised senior Republicans not to support Donald Trump if they did not want to.
“I think people should go with their conscience. Do what they want to do.” Ryan said. “That’s not something I’m in charge of, I have anything to do with. So I’m not going to spend my time worrying about it or commenting on it.”
The political and media elites appeared confident Donald Trump would not win the election. This in part may explain why Hillary Clinton did not connect with voters in the manner Donald Trump did.
This in some small way may also explain why many people do not want to subscribe to newspapers or buy newspapers as much as they used to or follow the advice of political analysts: there are a plethora of elite media sources saying things most people cannot relate to or quite frankly agree with.
New Media channels have begun to proliferate and air the opinions of the man and woman on the street. That just might be the bandwagon Donald Trump rode to victory on November 8. While his casual locker room talk may have been dirty for some; this perhaps is just what most of the voters wanted: a man of the people literally; never mind his billions. As the traditional media expressed its disgust at his talk, it failed to see Donald Trump had a strategy, and it worked like a charm.
Another leader who has a not-so charming personality is President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. He is a foul-mouthed leader by any repugnant standard you could hold Donald Trump to. In spite of this, Filipinos appear to love him for either his honesty or the work he is doing. As at October 12, he had an approval rating of 80% in a country that is devoutly Catholic. He is no media darling; and his administration has been accused by the media of supporting gross human rights infringements by security forces engaged in the war against drugs in the Philippines.
The media must be critical of President Duterte of course. But it must find a way to express itself in a language people relate to.
The haughtiness of the traditional media has seen people move to resist ideas expounded in highly academic political discourse and shun liberal policy and politicians in Germany, France, Britain, Holland and America, for example, where formerly small fringe far right wing parties that had been struggling to gain widespread support have made unprecedented gains in recent local and regional elections.
Meanwhile, in an interview broadcast by the BBC on 14 November, French far right right leader, Marie Le Pen, spoke of a new world order: “Clearly, Donald Trump’s victory is an additional stone in the building of a new world, destined to replace the old one,” she told the BBC’s flagship Sunday politics programme, the Andrew Marr Show. ”
The rise of far right parties in Europe and America has coincided with the rapid rise of new media.
By using new media to spread news that they believe is newsworthy, ordinary voters and organisations such as the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, are saying no to traditional media reporting and analysis.
The traditional media has to reassess its current model if it expects people to give it a kiss of life at this late stage of the game.
Take a look at your Twitter or Facebook timeline for a moment and you might find a host of links that lead to obscure news sites. Open the links sent by your contacts on WhatsApp and you may find that many if not most lead to false and unverified reports that do make for very interesting reading though.
Here is one false report that you have probably read or seen somewhere that is a major sign of the times we live in today:
“If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific”. Donald Trump. People Magazine: 1998.
But no: he did not say this. Yet most people have taken this as factually correct.
As the debate over media and political elites rages; it is time to ask: Is new media the proverbial elephant in the room?
Rest in Peace Traditional Media: 1920-2016.