World media parley laments threat to traditional platforms by ICT
From Ikenna Emewu in Boao, Hainan
The 15th Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) has kicked off this year, but on lamentation note by media leaders around the world concerning the serious threat faced by the traditional media by the growing inroad of the alternative or new media.
At the gathering of the over 200 media practitioners drawn from all over the world, 20 media organization chief executives sat as the leaders of the panel at the BFA 15th gathering on cooperation in Asian countries on the economy, social life, culture and other relevant sectors. And of course, the media being one of the most influential sectors of the world was the first panel that started the chain off deliberations and what ruled the evening for over four hours of discussions were cries and serious concern over how to keep the traditional media alive with the threat it faces from the new media, the alternative media or the social media channels.
The Asian countries with media CEOs in attendance and drawn from the newspapers, radio and television were host China, South Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Turkey, Japan, Bangladesh and of course, Egypt as the only African country represented.
Apart from the representative from Laos who admitted that his country is small with only 3% cellphone penetration and about 10% internet access, and does not suffer any effect in the traditional media, others presented cries over how the new trend is stopping their business and creating crises in the sector. They also called for a means of stopping the incursion or the end would come faster for the traditional media than imagined.
Within them was the agreement also that it has proved impossible for the traditional media to generate income from the ICT based media platforms or the webpages and also has become another dilemma to shut them down.
The BFA was set up by 26 Asian countries in 1998 while its inauguration formally came in 2001. It is fashioned after the World Economic Forum (WEF) that holds annually at Davos, Switzerland and had been dubbed in the past as Asia’s Davos.
Its name is taken from the small island city of Boao on the Island Province of Hainan (South Sea) actually by the shores of the South China Sea. After Boao was chosen as the centre for the BFA although its secretariat is located in faraway Beijing, over three and hours of flight away, the small town that actually means fisherman’s village has taken a larger than life status and transformed from the common fisherman location to a world stage that has hosted 15 times the governments of these 26 nations that deliberate their integration, economy, social, cultural and other relationships in Boao.
Daily Sun was among the participants from Africa with 20 journalists, one drawn from a country.
In series of votings to determine the extent of threat the social media has been to the traditional media, the rapporteurs voted in all of them that their organizations have suffered threats and have fashioned their policy directions to curb the problem and remain in business. They further voted in unison that none of those policies have stopped the negative impact in the sector as a result of the effect of the social media, especially the Facebook.
On reasons the social media has continued to enjoy the unchecked impacts, they voted that and explained later that the liberalization of the use of smart phones and the free access of the users to the worldwide web (www) of the internet has been the major issue.
The cellphone has become a tool on its own and its ownership or use is not regulated by the government. Even in China where there is some regulation of the social media, that is basically in words. What the truth is and should be explained is that whatever platform that is powered by Google suffers restriction to public use in China. Facebook and Twitter are part of it. Yet, China’s most prominent traditional media platforms, all owned and operated by the government like the People’s Daily with over 1.2b annual print run still has 44 webpages and platforms. The paper and the powerful CCTV all have facebook and twitter accounts they adverstise and display on their pages and screens gleefully.
However, China’s restriction of the use of the two google-based social media has succeeded in part as many smartphone users have devised means of using them, including gmails.
In addition, Chinese citizens have created their own social media platforms that are as popular in use. For instance, as a new comer in China, the first question a media person or young person asks you on first meet is your Wechat account. That is just China’s reply for the facebook and also not the only one. Wechat has over 400,000 users in China urban locations and it keeps expanding as the use is not restricted to China now. It has the advantages of internet free calls, chats and even video calls worldwide.
So rather than stopping the social media, China just created its own brands and they are well and thriving. All these culminate in terrorizing the media reach and existence. The participants also lamented the non-control of feeding information to the social media, the efficacy of getting to the media consumer faster and free. Every social media user is a consumer and supplier of the media content in circulation. They agreed that the trend has done so much harm in controlling quality of content even though the consumer doesn’t seem to mind.
The media executives also summarized that the social media has affected business returns as copy sales for the newspapers drop drastically and media buying or advertising for radio, TV and newspaper also go down. And to beat this obstacle, they agreed that a common ground has to be found to smoothen out matters.
In a discussion with Daily Sun after the interaction, one of the directors in a China Ministry of Foreign Affairs also shared in the concern and agreed that it is a real threat. He sees the trend as threat to some sub sectors of the media and not the entire media. According to him, the social media is also the media and the major difference is the practitioners, and the major task for the media is to find a way of making sure that owners and those that feed information to the social media are tested and trained experts who would be concerned with quality of output and training of journalists in the universities or colleges should also be tailored towards requisite knowledge of the social media usage, ownership and regulation. He sees it rather as the new direction the media has taken and should be studied, mastered and put into good and beneficial use for the world to get better informed.
Asia media integration
The parley was ended with a media briefing jointly by the China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA) and the BFA. It was chaired by seasoned retired diplomat and former Chinese Foreign Minister, Li Shixiang who expressed regret that although Asia has about 60% of the world’s population, its media contribution is still externally dominated. Li noted that Asia media contributes just 2% of the media content of the world while US and Europe dominate and feed the world with whatever they want and have.
He tasked the media executives to set out in a new direction and change the trend. “As Asia controls 60% of world’s population, it is logical that it should also drive the world media at equal measure. We should not have the media audience that lives to be fed by others with whatever they want to give out. The two blocks of America and Europe that dominate world media and information dissemination have a tiny percentage of the world audience. They give the world what they think they should have and force them to take it. That is not proper, so Asia media should rise to the challenge and take the rightful position as the commanding majority of world media consumer. The only way to go is forming a body to integrate, articulate and generate what should be the right and proper information for Asia and the world and the propaganda to manipulate a people by some.”
In conclusion, the body agreed to form an Asian media coalition as part of the motives and objectives of total integration in the continent in the spirit of the BFA. The body would have a role of fostering unity of purpose in the media in Asia, ensuring a common target and approach to curb the social media menace and also to attain the position of contributing effectively to media consumption in the world and to the Asian media consumers.