Tech blog

Media under pressure

Accusing media of biased coverage, the agitating Bangalore lawyers have tried to tell their side of the story on Facebook and YouTube. The number of Indians on these outlets is still small to challenge the media clout. But the lawyers have got their instinct right here; in many countries social media is emerging as an alternative channel to mainstream media.

Manchester United has 23 million followers on Facebook, larger than the circulation of many mainstream UK newspapers. Eight hundred thousand of them were engaged with its page or 'talking' about it on Monday evening. United does not need print and TV hacks to reach out to its fans.

Justin Bieber has 41 million followers and on Monday evening, 1.2 million were talking about him. A recent post says he is ‘giving up’ his 18th birthday to promote a charity, which works for clean water. He is urging his fans to skip their birthday and donate $18 each to the cause. Forty-three thousand have agreed so far.

The new reality has sunk in and many have tried to assert their new power against the media. Before the start of the last year’s Premier League season in the UK, Premier League and Football League circulated 16 pages of legal restrictions to media organisations on how news could be produced and distributed at football grounds.

The Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, Press Association and many British newspapers have formed ‘News Media Coalition’ to protect the ability of news organisations to cover major events.

These trends are likely to visit India in due course. Just 3.1 per cent of the country's population is on Facebook, but the number is growing fast. Many celebrities and companies have enough following to reach out to their audience on their own.

A R Rahman, Sachin tendulkar and Aamir Khan have 7.7 million, 5.6 million and 4.3 million followers on Facebook. If they ever get into a spat with the media, they would not need a camera to tell their side of the story.  With 3 million followers Kingfisher is the second leading Indian company on Facebook after Tata Docomo, which has 6 million followers. Its Facebook page focuses on the flourishing alcohol business and is rolling in good times, promoting events and organising parties - a far cry from the splash of negative publicity that has hit its once high-flying namesake business.

The media is under pressure to tread even the shrinking ground beneath its feet delicately.  Last month, WSJ ran an article comparing the hacker group Anonymous with al-Qaeda. In retaliation thousands of Anonymous members posted protest messages on WSJ sites. After WSJ closed comments on its sites, hackers targeted the numerous Facebook pages run by WSJ. Though comments poured in for several hours across WSJ sites, Facebook said its spam policy was not violated as the messages were posted by individual users. One of the most influential media voices outlets found itself outmanoeuvred on the Facebook.

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