, March 2, 2005 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio  -  Having been the people who "invented" people power, and having seen "peaceful revolutions" replicated in many parts of the world, often employed to cause significant changes in the politics or social order of nations, we can best appreciate the collective power of public opinion and how, when unleashed, it can influence the future of men and the destiny of the world.

Journalists have documented the continuing saga of nations being born, as it were, into the liberating air of popular will and democratic exercise. In such instances, mass media has abetted the pursuit for justice and fairness amid corruption and wrongdoing. The media has been the traditional source of news, heavily influencing public opinion. In effect, media coverage shapes what the public thinks, no matter how unwarranted or unfair. The concept of "trial by publicity" only hints at the fierce battle waged between opposing parties when controversies are laundered in public through media coverage, gratuitously provided by the press, TV and radio news.

Such power was manifest during the EDSA revolution – a television station and a radio station fearlessly broadcasting the unfolding events, despite an impending military takeover of the facilities. It was the images on TV and the reports on radio that finally galvanized the masses to flock to EDSA; the courageous broadcast journalists’ calls for support rallied those who, up until that time, kept a prudent distance from the tumultuous events.

We all remember that in another EDSA uprising, new technology played a crucial role in forcing the incumbent to vacate Malacañang. It is now a textbook case where texting proved to be the popular medium by which scores of Makati employees and Metro Manila residents amassed at the Shrine of our Lady of EDSA and declared, in no uncertain terms, their disenchantment with the Erap administration.

People power is necessarily supported by the fourth estate – the press. We have seen the same formula in popular uprisings in South America and Africa. Mass media documents the events that spur popular opinion, records the public sentiment and clamor for change, and later, notes the action taken by the masses towards a resolution. In this instance, the press acts as a conduit for recording and reporting events to the public, and as a filter, where journalists voice their opinion and, in turn, mold other people’s opinion.

Technology is, yet again, reshaping the way we communicate. Mass media, we thought, represented the pinnacle of our ability to communicate to the world. With more sophisticated innovations in radio and television technologies (i.e, digital broadcast, streaming video/audio, satellite communications, etc.), it served the need to disseminate information on real-time and in great numbers. But, as is the nature of mass media, it was, largely, a one-way communication channel.

Blogging, a contraction of "web log," is an updated idea of a diary or journal, where one keeps notes of the day’s events and just about anything and everything that comes to mind. Posted on a website and accessible to anyone, who cares to see it, the once-private diary is now available for the whole world to see. There are different variations to the concept. We can have our own website (although less conducive to daily revisions or updates), an electronic bulletin board service (BBS, though a virtual discussion forum, also serves the same purpose) and any number of similar services, all designed to document personal opinions and communicate them to the websurfing public.

The Internet has redefined the way we exchange information. It has revolutionized publishing to levels that even Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World could only imagine. It is considered a new "medium" of communication, in the same manner we consider print, television and radio media. Yet, out of this seemingly innocuous new technology, we are beginning to see a potent and revolutionary tool that promises to turn our conventional notions of journalism on its head.

Just last year, the celebrated news anchor of CBS, Dan Rather, stepped down after having admitted that an expose he made about US President George W. Bush’s military record came from tainted and unreliable sources. That development, according to CNN, arose from the indefatigable efforts of bloggers, who refuted Rather’s claims and brought into question the veracity of his reports.

The New York Sun reports: "Mr. Johnson’s biggest coup so far came when, together with some other bloggers, he exposed the forged documents with which CBS’ 60 Minutes sought to undermine President Bush’s claim to have served honorably in the Texas National Guard during the Vietnam War. It was Mr. Johnson who, copying the forgery from a PDF file CBS posted on its web site, retyped the memo using Microsoft Word’s standard settings, and found that his version was identical in every detail to the one Dan Rather claimed had been typed on a manual typewriter some three decades earlier."

CNN was recently the unwitting victim of bloggers. One of its top executives, Eason Jordan, spoke before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and suggested that coalition troops in Iraq had targeted a dozen journalists. He later insisted that he never said that. The Washington Post reports, however, that "Jordan was being pounded hourly by bloggers, liberals as well as conservatives, who provided the rocket fuel for a story that otherwise might have fizzled."

Estimates put bloggers at around 7,000,000 worldwide. While Filipinos may comprise a tiny minority of these so-called "personal publishers," the potential for blogs to influence national and global developments cannot be ignored. Sure, we have a long way to go, as far as getting our 90,000,000 citizens wired and surfing the Internet. Access to the Internet in the Philippines is estimated at around 20 to 25 percent, mostly students in the urban areas, but our country is not known to have the freest press in the region for nothing.

Already, web-based discussion groups are the "in" things among students and yuppies. Web-based service providers like Yahoo, Yehey, Pinoy Central, and many other forum services are enjoying high membership from our countrymen. Even the government has its own. Perhaps the anonymity (or so they think; techies can trace the unique IP addresses generated by personal computers everytime they log on) allows the typically reticent Filipino to unleash his (sometimes) fiery commentaries online.

Blogging is threatening to redefine journalism. "Media is no longer controlling the agenda," commented a news reporter interviewed on CNN. Bloggers are able to push issues into the mainstream, and thereby, catch full media attention. What would otherwise have been issues, which would have fizzled out for lack of public awareness, gains momentum when bloggers embark on their web-based crusade. Everyone who can keep a journal becomes a journalist and a publisher."

In a country where problems are resolved through press releases and premature announcements (right before Christmas, it was announced that we were over the fiscal crisis, then just the other day, we were being threatened with the specter of another Argentina if we were to delay the passing of new taxes – what gives?), blogging and all its related varieties may, finally, give voice to Juan de la Cruz who has been frustrated by lack of conviction by government to help the plight of the common tao. Next time around, EDSA may take place in a virtual environment, where neither guns nor tanks can stop or advance the cause of people power. Blog.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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