Introducing ICT in Egyptian Newsrooms: Democratizing Media... Democratising the Society
Information communication technologies, especially the internet, are believed to bring about changes in journalistic practices of production, to attract new audiences, and increase the media supply. One of the most debated changes is the increasing opportunity to communicate across the ‘old’ boundaries of time and place between journalists and citizens. These real or potential changes are significant as news is an important part of contemporary societies. As with journalism, which is not only about informing people about recent ‘factual’ events but also a profoundly cultural sense-making practice of modernity (Hartley, 1996), not only do ICTs provide stories on recent events, but through ritualised performance and consumption they also affect social life as well as the everyday life of the citizenry (Allan, 1999). There is intense interest in the potential of ICTs to contribute to a new era of participatory democracy and a revitalisation of the journalistic profession in creation of an interactive public sphere (McChesney, 2002). A leading exponent of this notion is Howard Rheingold; an influential member of an early internet community called The Well, whose book Virtual Communities was published in 1993. Rheingold’s main argument is that ‘Journalists, meetings and facilitations of interactivity in virtual communities could help revitalise democracy, or they could be luring us into an attractively packaged substitute for democratic discourse’ (Rheingold, 1993: 276). Rheingold and others have promoted the utopian vision of the electronic agora, an ‘Athens without slaves’. He believes that the technology, ‘if properly understood and defended by enough e-journalists, does have democratising potential [within the framework of the society] in the way that alphabets and printing presses had democratising potential’ (Rheingold, 1993: 279). The underpinning argument is that if ICTs are well-introduced into society through ‘proper’ journalism, they will enhance the citizens’ willingness and ability to participate, and the distance between the elite and citizens should become smaller. Likewise, both journalists and audiences would be closer to each other. Ideally, meaningful public discussions within the platform of journalism would be reinforced: today’s rather elitist, conflict-centred news would be transformed into a source of, and an arena for, vivid dialogue between citizens, authorities and politicians. Ultimately the news, for its own part, would revive and strengthen democracy. This line of thinking stems from the ideology of public journalism, where the task is not only to inform citizens but also to enhance meaningful public discussion and participation (Heikkilä and Kunelius, 1997; Rosen, 1991; Sirienni and Friedland, 2001).