To what extent do you agree that the media has been a liberating force?

The number of media portal that an average person today has access to is astounding. Cable televisions boast up to 800 channels in countries like Singapore and the United States, and there are countless magazines and informative newsletters available in almost every bookstore, not forgetting the hundreds of newspapers across the globe available to us both in print and online versions. In today’s world, the media plays a vital role in providing information, entertainment and most importantly, shedding light on lesser- known issues. I feel that media, being an extremely important tool that has the capability to free people from oppression, voice concerns of the public and enlighten them on issues that are larger themselves, acts as a liberating force.

Critics always argue that one of the biggest constraints of the media is that it is often censored and manipulated to act as a mouthpiece to promote certain agendas. This is seen in authoritarian governments all over the world that systematically sieve out all potentially controversial or anti- government content from the news and other media forms such as movies and sometimes even music. Due to this, in some instances, the media fails to be a liberating tool as it constraints viewers and consumers to only one possible viewpoint, restricting the knowledge of the people to solely what the government chooses to make available to its people. For example, the “Great Firewall” of China blocks out all pro-democratic websites and even search engines such as Google, replacing them with its own censored versions such as Baidu. In this manner, all the exposure that the people receive about events are restricted to what the authorities allow, leaving the people with misconceptions and incomplete information as seen in the Chinese Xin Hua News Agency’s minimal coverage of the devastation caused by the Sichuan Earthquake, which the government sought to downplay. Hence, it is somewhat fair to say that in such instances, the media can misrepresent information when censored, and hence restricts people’s knowledge rather than liberates them with access to a range of viewpoints.

However, to a larger extent, the media has become an essential tool that serves to free many people across the globe from oppresion by being a voice that sheds light on their predicaments. This comes in the form of new media. New media, with its global outreach and lighting fast speech of information dissemination, has made possible the rise of a phenomenon known as citizen journalism. Given that everyone with Internet access and the ability to type can now partake in the news dissemination process, new media has given a voice to the common people who are now able to raise issues and garner support and help. From recent uprisings in Arab nations such as Tunisia and Yemen to the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, the Internet has been highly effective in bringing global attention to the plight of the oppressed. The protests and riots on the streets of Tripoli against Gaddafi’s regime were first made known to the international community through amateur footage uploaded by Facebook and Twitter users, which went on to enlighten the world about the injustice that was ongoing in the region. This even prompted a NATO air raid led by France on Gaddafi’s troops, as a sign of support for the people of Libya and their plight. This exemplifies the media’s power to liberate the common people from injustice and grant them the freedom to express their opinions.

Furthermore, the media has also played an important role in uncovering the truth that is often intentionally, or not, hidden from the general public. By exposing the truth of many such issues and providing sound and factual representations of situations through the news and documentaries, the media is capable of liberating the masses by enlightening them and equipping them with the truth of the matter. News corporations have the resources and the incentive to carry out undercover reporting and investigations to get to the roots of the problems and find answers. In the cases of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prison scandals, the media was able to uncover footage of American soldiers abusing the prisoners and hence spark fierce debate and a government investigation of the issue to preserve the rights of prisoners. Many documentaries such as Discovery Channels “Air Crash Investigation” also do the same thing and uncover truths about past and present events in an objective way and hence are capable of extracting the truth behind conspiracies and cover-ups and can equip people with this knowledge, freeing them from deceit and fraudulent theories.

In the realm of the arts, the media has liberated people from both geographical and economic constraints and boundaries and has successfully immersed them in the appreciation of the arts. In the past, the arts, in the form of music, plays and films, were restricted to the rich and wealthy or could be appreciated only by those physically close to a theatre, museum or cinema. But with media coverage in the form of television shows, radio and magazines, these art forms are accessible to anyone with a television or a computer. One no longer has to travel to Cannes to see the year’s winning entries because there is an entire channel dedicated to playing art films on cable television. Music is no longer confined to certain regions or countries as iTunes and Billboard magazines is an excellent presentation of how, even with regard to the arts, the media has freed people from geographical and physical boundaries and allowed them access to an entirely new world and countless different cultures through something as accessible as MTV or a Bollywood movie.

Hence, it can be concluded that although in certain instances where censorship is practised, the media can possibly be an oppressive force that has the potential to mislead the masses, in many other instances, the media actually serves to liberate the masses and free them from their ignorance, misconceptions and oppressions. Thus, I strongly feel that in our world today, the media might possibly be one of the most powerful liberating force available.