Censorship strategies exacerbate political polarization
Digital politics has been instrumental in opening political debate to new groups and creating space for more diverse views and perspectives; however, it’s also helping polarize political discourse, especially when heavy censorship strategies prevent meaningful political debate. For example, in Thailand, Shinawatra’s strategy of media control and intimidation helped fracture media messaging into ‘pro-Thaksin’ and ‘anti-Thaksin’ camps, which led to a kind of media-messaging land-grab in subsequent political activity.
Prof Ubonrat Siriyuvasak writes,
“Digital media technology enabled both the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) to make use of satellite broadcasts, which proved technically difficult to censor. These media connected with a wide range of digital networks such as local cable services, community radio, the Internet, and social web networks. Together, these media were effective in politicizing and radicalizing their audiences. Since they were not subject to any real governance or requirement to offer balanced perspective, their daily programmes not only reported, but also magnified, over-simplified and distorted events to manipulate audiences to suit political aims.”
He also notes that some groups have emerged in Thailand to address sharp political divisions, but results are mixed.
“The disappointment of Bangkok’s middle class with the bias of the mainstream media led to yet more, self-organized ‘pro-Abhisit’ social networks, aiming to promote reconciliation between the colour-coded foes. But it is not all about compromise- the ‘Social Sanction’ group engages in contentious cyber warfare, hunting and condemning anyone they deem to be ‘Red’. Dan Rivers of CNN was accused of biased reporting and Witawat Taaokamlue or Mark V11, a contestant on the Academy Fantasia programme, was forced out of the contest due to his criticism of Prime Minister Abhisit on the Internet.”
The complicated dynamic between censorship, ‘official’ messages, anti-establishment media, and political polarization could become an intractable problem. As Siriyuvasak writes, “the color-coded politics will be difficult to reconcile without an open public forum for genuine political debate.” As an example, he says, “In Malaysia, the government’s continuous and unjustified suppression of political dissent prevents legitimate and meaningful political debate, and can ultimately lead to deeper and abrupt conflict.” ASEAN governments appear to be moving in the direction of censorship, which doesn’t bode well for political reconciliation.
Sources:Noviscape, Sept 2010, page 7, 8: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/Noviscape_Sept2010#=page7
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