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Asian Media in Transition
The development of new forms of media has revolutionised various societies across the globe. Precisely, the Internet and documentaries can offer a platform for activism and dissent in countries such as Indonesia and China. In so doing, it provides a chance for the public to air their grievance thus promoting rule of law, equality, freedom, and democracy (Rawnsley, 2004). Countries such as China and Indonesia have weak democracy because they are single-party states while the media in the country are subjected to harsh laws and unfavourable competition. The state controls television hence the political, social, and legal framework in which the media function are predetermined (Rawnsley, 2004). In the past, conventional media such as newspapers have failed in giving the people the opportunity to express their opinion. Conversely, the new media inspire public debate and participation on social affairs. Characteristics of the Internet make it an ideal platform to facilitate social movement and disseminate materials.
The ways in which the internet and documentaries can provide a platform for activism and dissent
According to Yang Liu (2015), social media platforms such as Twitter-like system (Weibo) have played a critical part in social movements in countries such as China. Specifically, the use of technologies such as Weibo has enabled popular social movements, which are coordinated and initiated through the micro-blogging site. In fact, Weibo is the most popular social media site in the country due to its viral dissemination, multichannel integration, and content fragmentation (Liu, 2015). Following the high-speed train accident in Wenzhou, the public started the micro-blogging revolution in the country. The authorities in China reacted poorly which promoted anger and despair from the masses. Subsequently, it compelled the people to organize grassroots movement using Weibo aiming to pursue the truth concerning the collision and demanding the punishment for liable parties.
However, Lim (2013) indicated for the success of social media activism in nations such as Indonesia depends on the ability to meet the standards of modern consumer culture. In this regard, it must adhere to tenets of trailer vision, headline appetite, and light package (Liu, 2015). Therefore, it can effectively gather the masses support when its descriptions are simple, linked with the low-risk activities and consistent with main meta-narratives such as religiosity and nationalism.
In this regard, Weibo offered a perfect area for grassroots activists to gather and petition for institutional reforms within the Ministry of Railway in the country. Most notably, the powerful public uproar on Weibo subsequently ushered social and policy change (Liu, 2015). The researcher noted grassroots organizers could take advantage the effective mobilization in the social media networks to advance institutional changes and social reforms in the section of society, economic sectors, and government (Liu, 2015). More importantly, approaches such as techno-dystopian and techno-utopian can be utilized to explain the impacts of social media in the society.
Firstly, the techno-utopian approach suggests that social media can advance democratic processes and political participation via the expansion of access to data and the sharing of ideas. In fact, the collective utilization of the Internet enhances the build-up of reciprocity and trust online (social capital) which usually inspires persons to raise their political participation (Liu, 2015). Moreover, it serves as a foundation of political data and information and a domain for masses communication and expression hence aiding in civic messaging and complementing the traditional media (Liu, 2015). On the other hand, marginalized groups use networks such as Weibo by realigning their association with governing classes by joining into a dialogue that is inaccessible in other contexts of communication.
Conversely, the techno-dystopian posits that the social media such as Weibo are a menace to democracy as the governments and corporations can utilize them to manage their identities and users. In so doing, the government can use the powers offered by new media to reinforce and consolidate reigning regimes instead of promoting political discussion and nurture development and reforms in the society (Liu, 2015). Therefore, techno-dystopian vent their concerns regarding the Internet turning out to be part of the ruling class instead of being a network that enhances democratic processing in the political structure. They argued that the inaccessibility of the Internet among the people of lower social classes has hampered the democratic transformation. In other areas, activists using the online systems can be jailed.
On the other hand, Viviani (2014) highlighted that independent documentaries have the capacity to create awareness and inspire urban citizens to engage in social issues. Meanwhile, the production of autonomous documentary signifies a revolution in a social grassroots in the modern Chinese society. Some of these documentaries focus on issues such as civil rights and social scandals (Viviani, 2014). In so doing, they function as centres of empowerment and social activism, especially among the marginalized people. The video activism has helped the people to oppose the idea of the submissive citizenship (Hao gongmin) advanced by the government of China but has instead embraced an active and independent idea of citizenship that repossesses the right to intervene, discuss, and speak directly in the social and public domain (Viviani, 2014). A public sphere is a place in social life that enables people to meet and easily classify and converse about societal concerns. It also mediates between state and society where the masses arrange it as holder of public views.
The making of independent videos and documentaries in China create a public sphere, which is a milestone in the growth of democratic processes, and it concentrates on the citizens’ activity. Moreover, it empowers the ordinary people to formulate the public policy and public culture. In China, documentary cinema takes a special part in criticism and dissent (Viviani, 2014). Digital videos in the country deliver messages on turmoil, social injustices, and poverty particularly in autocratic governments that do not have self-governing media. Indeed, the foreign independent film producers have assisted in the growth of public spheres of conversation and a democratised production of media because they are usually engaged with communities and organizations working in the protection of human and civil rights. Local documentaries are not high-tech as compared to foreign documentaries. In addition, they are normally deprived of a structure in production of film hence they do not participate in grassroots movements and are not linked to robust political beliefs. On the contrary, the foreign autonomous documentaries involve sophisticated activists such as Act Video in Japan, Papertiger TV in the US, and Undercurrent in the UK (Viviani, 2014). In this regard, they are renowned for using videos to contest the conventional media and spread news and information about that was not covered or marginalized.
The independent documentaries in china help in filling a vacuum left by state-controlled media to deliver first-hand information and initiate political discussions. For instance, the Pan Jianlin film, which showed news of, damaged school dormitories during Sichuan earthquake. Interestingly, the China mainstream media had delivered stories and images of courageous rescues but failed to comment on politically delicate issues related to the earthquake (Viviani, 2014). Importantly, the documentary highlighted narratives of scholars, experts, and relatives of the victims. NGOs, civic associations and volunteers in safeguarding the legal and civil rights at the local level (Rawnsley, 2004) currently apply the activist’s documentary in china.
The extent to which these activities result in policy and social change
Brown, (1995) noted that media has contributed to social change in the pasts especially in the collapse of communism. For instance, the Glasnost policies introduced by Gorvachev between 1985 and 1991 in Central Asia contributed to the downfall of Soviet Union. The media took advantage of editorial independence from the authorities. In this regard, the media facilitated the growth of new kinds of freedom to deliver grievances and condemn political leaders. Furthermore, the media helped to shape policies from Moscow since the media initiated an anti-corruption campaign criticising both low- and high-level government officials (Brown, 1995). Reports from the media also encouraged the people to advocate for policy change in Central Asia. For instance, the government intended to introduce policies from Moscow to Central Asia. However, the media portrayed Russian policies as hostile and external phenomenon hence the people rejected them. Consequently, they adopted new policies that promoted equality and open; free press (Brown, 1995).
Moreover, Dwyer (2015) argued that the social media networks have been regarded as a core aspect of citizenship. Similarly, the rising number of Internet networks in tablets and smartphones demand more comprehensive and detailed reaction by authorities and their agencies. As a result, they encourage policy framework, which enhances digital skills and knowledge as well as social inclusion. As the public are increasingly acquiring news through the mobile Internet, they are aware of their rights hence the need to advocate for reforms and inclusion which promote policy changes. They are also creating complex and intense changes in the government especially in Asian countries of People’s Republic of China (Dwyer, 2015). The social media has also promoted the political participation, which eventually leads to policy change. For instance, during the Fukushima radiation crisis, the environmental activists utilized the social media to demand policy changes. In the process, most of the people were engaged which facilitated the restructuring of the energy laws and policies.
Brown, J. L. (1995). Mass media in transition in Central Asia. Gazette (Leiden, Netherlands), 54(3), 249-265.
Dwyer, T. (2015). Surviving the transition to “digital first”: news apps in Asian mobile internets. Journal of Media Business Studies, 12(1), 29-48.
Kindstrand, L., Nishimura, K., & Slater, D. H. (2016). Mobilizing discontent: Social media and networked activism since the Great East Japan Earthquake. Routledge handbook of new media in asia, 53-65.
Lim, M. (2013). Many clicks but little sticks: Social media activism in Indonesia. Journal of contemporary asia, 43(4), 636-657.
Liu, Y. (2015). Tweeting, re-tweeting, and commenting: Microblogging and social movements in China. Asian Journal of Communication, 25(6), 567-583.
Rawnsley, G. (2004). Asian media in transition. Continuum, 18(1), 145-149.
Viviani, M. (2014). Chinese independent documentary films: Alternative media, public spheres and the emergence of the citizen activist. Asian Studies Review, 38(1), 107-123.