We live in a world of political polarisation. Some of this polarisation is due to the manner in which we view and understand socio-economic and political processes and events.
And here the news media plays a crucial role in informing, analysing and debating various alternative political positions and solutions. The focus in recent years on the growing phenomenon of “fake news” has revitalised the discussion on the credibility of our news sources. Scholars are showing considerable interest in expanding our understanding of the choice of news platforms, news consumption patterns and how such information shapes our political priorities and preferences.
Around a decade and a half ago, the main providers of news were television, radio, the print media and the Internet. Since then social media channels have multiplied and the readership of daily newspapers and the viewership of television channels have undergone major upheavals.
While a personal computer facilitated easy access to the Internet from home, the smart phone has revolutionised the news and entertainment industry. Most major newspapers offered free online content for a while, but as fewer people bought a print copy, revenue, including those from advertising, declined and publishers introduced the paywall system.
This means that accessing high-quality and credible news and analyses is not cheap. For me to follow events in Norway and around the world, I subscribe to a variety of online platforms offered by the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, the Economist, Aftenposten, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The Nation and The Daily Times in Malawi. Thus far, the online versions of some Asian and African newspapers remain free to access, but it is only a matter of time before most, if not all, papers begin charging a subscription fee. The point here is that accessing high quality news content today comes at a price.
Traditional media houses have often touted their ability to hire a competent team of well-trained journalists and editors, who strive to provide a balanced and somewhat impartial coverage of the issues. With the proliferation of social media sites, there have been concerns over the quality and credibility of news stories and their impact on political engagement and social activism.
There is certainly a risk of engaging in echo chambers where certain beliefs are reinforced inside closed groups without criticism and rebuttal. Among various groups, however, the youth are especially active users of social media sites and several studies find that in addition to building relationships, online political activity correlates strongly with political awareness and participation.
The hashtags #MeToo, #MAGA and #BlackLivesMatter are just two examples of protests and political engagement fuelled by social media, which has provided traditionally underrepresented groups with effective tools to voice their dissatisfaction with political processes. n