Saturday, 26 February 2011

Youth, Internet and the revolutions

There should be a feel good factor in the way social media has shaken the bedrock of global politics in the recent months. From the wiki leaks that embarrassed governments by tapping on diplomatic cables to the revolutionary demonstrations in the Middle East, these events have one common thread underlining them: the power of the internet to spark controversies and it's ability to mobilise large scale protests. Surprisingly, when it came to the protests in Tunisia the main stream media took time to get into grips with the situation, whilst hints of unrest was  already brewing on Twitter soon after Bouazizi ,the vegetable vendor, who later became an immortal face of the protests  set himself on fire.

The protests across the Middle East and North Africa have another powerful element to it. They are being lead by the youth, who are actively using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and You Tube to mobilise the crowd. At the peak of the revolution in Egypt, 87, 293  signed up the Facebook page “We are all Khalid Said”( Khalid Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian from the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt, was tortured to death at the hands of two police officers became a symbol of the protestors). Later, Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian-born Google marketing executive, who first played a role in organising the opposition through Facebook, told the American audiences that without Facebook and Twitter their revolution "would never have happened".

The political developments in the Middle East indicates how the world is going to be shaped in the coming years as cyber savvy generation become more conscious of their political and social rights and take centre stage in making their voices heard on national and international issues.

Let’s look at the positive aspects. According to the CIA World Factbook, more than 1.7 billion people on earth today are between 15 and 30 years of age, with an average age of 28. This number of this Gen Y or Millennia generation, as it is known are set to grow phenomenally within the next few years. Clearly with further internet penetration and with more people becoming literate, the access to information for the vast majority of the people will be far greater than any point of time in human history.

These changes will structurally affect the way the governments and businesses communicate. For businesses and brands, marketing strategies will have to undergo a radical shift. Their messages have to be fragmented, based on understanding of the cultural dynamics of its targeted audience. For example, the outlook of a teenage girl in Shanghai and Paris using a Louis Vuitton can be similar, but the Chinese consumer has to be approached in ways that makes her see Louis Vuttion as something that fits into her realm of things. In other words, in a flat world, it will be bit tricky to imagine that nationalism or individualism will disappear. One to one communication will be the need of the day; brands would have to increasingly act as services.

At the political level, governments in democracies will have to become more transparent. In many ways, exchange of information, knowledge and solidarity on issues of global importance will be much stronger. It need not be based on a TV or radio show but based on communities on internet with much sophisticated tools. Most importantly, hypocrisy of leaders, organisations and others that tend to safeguarded the interests of despots and oppressors with murky business deals will be increasingly questioned.

Finally, as seen in Egypt, the internet can be a catalyst in a change. An illiterate man many not be able to use Facebook, but he can surely understand a video on Youtube. This clearly demonstrates that technology can be used in various ways for the benefit of the masses. Today, only 30 percent of the global population use internet, the figure will double in next few years. To make that happen it is the responsibility of the digital natives as they come to power to make policies and take actions to uplift the poor in the society. Technology in the 21st century should be used to create a fairer and a better world.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The role of the BBC World Service in our lives

This week Suti focuses on the BBC…

The BBC world service last month confirmed plans to close five of its 32 World Service language services. According to Mr Thompson, the director general of the BBC, the cuts were necessary due to last autumn’s Spending Review. The recent plans will effectively end the radio programming in seven languages – Azeri (the official language of Azerbaijan), Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Spanish (for Cuba), Turkish, Vietnamese and Ukrainian.  Though personally not affected, I do share the grief of the regular listeners of the BBC in the above languages.

My association with the BBC dates back to the early days of my childhood. As a child growing up in a public boarding school in India, listening to the BBC world service news was a part of our daily routine. We had to listen to the BBC world news before breakfast. It didn’t really matter whether we understood global affairs or not, but the house master, like most of the teachers, felt listening to the BBC was absolutely necessary to improve our English!

As the Indian media boomed in the mid 1990s bringing along a plethora of private English and other language news channels, the BBC radio service’s popularity dwindled. However, the BBC radio service remained intimately strong with the older generation. I remember my neighbour, a lanky old fellow who would listen to the world service news on his crackling transistor that he has been using for half a century.  He would often proudly say how the BBC was the first one to broadcast the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in 1984, hours before the Indian media did. Clearly for a man who probably never moved out of his home state, the BBC shaped his vision of the world and global events throughout his life.

As I grew up and went to the university to study journalism, the BBC remained for me and my friends a model for its credible editorial and impartial news. We thought the simplicity of the BBC website and its adaptation of other aspects of the digital are simply remarkable.

In a global context, the BBC has also been a powerful tool for public diplomacy over the world and played a very important role for millions in shaping outlook and perception of some of the universal values like democracy, freedom and human rights. The BBC regional services get into territories and bring amazing human interest stories which otherwise in many countries are not reported by the domestic media. The BBC world service is not just about news and current affairs, its programmes spans across  global art, cultures, science, technology, music  and literature that stimulate intellectual discussions  and deeply  enriches our view of the world.

The other day I  took part in a discussion with someone, who argued that the BBC still suffers from the colonial hangover and tries to impose its views on the world.  Perceptions about news might differ from person to person, and now living in Britain; I have a better understanding about the organisation and the controversies surrounding it. However, I still believe that the BBC World Service gives good insight to some of the pressing issues of the world and it remains one of the most trusted organisations for news for many around the globe.

At a time, when countries like China are investing millions in international English channel, the BBC   should ensure the World Service remains an articulate and powerful voice  for free and independent reporting and be the collective voice of shared universal principles  in the world. Credibility is the key to the BBC’S success and it must ensure that it continues to enhance that.