Under the sustainable development goals agenda, fundamental freedoms, protection and information access have emerged among Asian countries (Bertheau, 2020). With the growing use of digital communication, significant changes have occurred in the media landscape. These changes are important for human development as access to reliable and quality information has increased transparency and accountability in gender equality, social involvement, education and health (Tai and Fu 2020). From interaction with the module, I have come to acknowledge the importance of these changes in media, where media independence and public interest journalism have eradicated some of the longstanding issues in media among Asia countries. The media environment among Asian counties continues to grow despite the challenges affecting media independence. In this critical essay, I discuss the two ways in which I think Asian media is still in Transition, as the use of social media in democratization and the use of social media in resisting authoritarian regimes still faces many challenges.
Ways in which the Media in Asia is said to be in Transition
First, social media has taken a central role in democratization among Asian countries, but the democratization has escalated to provide undesired outcomes. The increased participation of citizens has come with social media as alternative news mediums such as citizen news podcasts are increasing. The mainstream media in Asian countries are often closely related to the political power in these countries. These trends have perpetrated biased and manipulative media reporting, which social media adoption has continued to address (Park, 2017). At a time when mainstream media have been criticized for their orientation towards manipulation of public opinion, unfair reporting and conservatism, social media has provided breathing room for voices that seek to provide alternative narratives. With social media, many citizens in Asian countries have been able to mobilize themselves to express opinions aimed at developing a new public sphere outside those controlled by the mainstream media and the political elites. As described by Park (2017), social media has enabled Korean citizens to hold public discussions, disseminate information and undertake organized public action, which is considered to improve democracy. These trends are supported by reduced social media censorship based on administrative and legal actions.
In the background of democratization, social media has affected the campaigning and reporting of elections among Asian countries, as Sinpeng et al. (2020) noted. The Asia countries have often been characterized by disinformation in both online and offline media. Recently, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs have played a key role in the election processes in Asian counties. Some consider these developments in terms of excitement, while others consider them a cause for concern (Tapsell, 2021). The Sinpeng et al. (2020) study identified the 2016 elections as the first “social media elections” in the Philippines. The study provides insights into how Duterte leveraged social media to gain victory in elections. The analysis considers social media as an avenue for developing online prominence. Social has increased political participation in Asian countries but also created a challenge. Social media has enabled politicians to adopt a variety of campaigning tactics. Compared to mainstream media campaigns, social media has been attributed with disinformation, identity politics, underground and subversive politics. According to Tapsell (2021), social media campaigning has gained traction in Southern Asian countries but is mainly considered a subversion to the official communication channels and mainstream discourse. Even when the media supports the democratization of these countries, a distressing online election discourse has challenged these countries. The distressing trends in online election discourse are characterized by inadequate regulation and scrutiny of the expenditure on online campaigns or institutions (Ong and Tapsell, 2022). These trends make the social media environment insidious, increasing disinformation’s role. The misuse of information i.e. the growing trends of disinformation in the political spheres in Asian countries, often deceives and manipulates the voting public, which reverses democracy in the countries. The use of disinformation to deceive and manipulate the voting public has been observed in the Philippines. The 2022 election coverage through social media was characterized by disinformation and trolled through social media; the fake news and use of trolls to attack opponents during the coverage of the electoral process presented false news in a manner that people believed was the truth (Walker, 2022). This is an example of where social media has continued to negatively affect democracy in some Asian Countries.
Secondly, the new media among Asian countries have opened up new avenues for resistance to dictatorship regimes. During the module, I learned about the role of social media in providing an avenue for individuals to criticize the dictatorial regimes within Asian countries. One of the trends in which society has been used to criticize the dictatorial regimes in Asian countries has been through internet parody called “ego” in the Chinese context. Internet parody has continued to receive significant traction with massive political and social implications (Li, 2011). Countries such as China were traditionally characterized by censorship and propaganda the like those adopted by the Soviet Union (Luqiu, 2017). The policies put in place by the government to censor social media were aimed at lowering the political risk within the country. The mainstream censorship of media reduced the involvement of political satirists as they were forced to self-censor while limiting their output in political satire. The previous experiences in countries such as China were characterized by a low tolerance for expression in social media as part of regulating political expression in the country. The trend in China, like other Asia counties, has continued to improve with the introduction of the Internet and digital technologies. Telecommunication development has provided new avenues for political satire to prosper thanks to technology-enabled communication. Social media is less controlled than mainstream media enabling individuals to adopt playfulness to deconstruct the rigidity of the political regimes within Asian counties (Luqiu, 2017). This new discourse provides an avenue for combining deep political discourses with entertainment providing significant engagement to those that require information and interactions. Podcasting has also gained traction in Asia counties enabling individuals to criticize the ruling elites (Park, 2017). In this case, I will reflect on the activities of political satirists criticizing the Chinese government.
What the Transitions Indicate about the Development of Media in Asia
Social media experienced censorship in Asian countries over the past as it was considered to provide an avenue for criticizing the ruling elites. But, the permeation of social media into elections appears to undermine democracy in Asian countries, especially with the manipulation and disinformation the voting public is subjected to. When I consider the case of elections in the Philippines, I expect social media to increase accountability and transparency in the reporting of elections in the country. The experiences of the 2022 elections in the Philippines provided a scenario where online attacks, trolling and disinformation became pervasive (Walker, 2022). In this case, personal attacks, the use of bots to change discussions and alteration of quotes, and the lack of curiosity among the Philippine citizens enabled the misuse of social media. These trends mirrored the suggestions of Tapsell (2021), which highlighted the role of social media sites such as Facebook in disinformation production during the electoral periods. The incapability to address the fake news in the Philippines compared to other Asian countries such as Malaysia indicates that the country’s media was still struggling. Based on these suggestions and discussions, I could note that social media use in Asian countries was still in development and had not matured.
Political satire in Asian countries through online media has experienced ups and downs, even when social media censorship has declined in these countries. Different groups have leveraged political satire to achieve different aims. One group that has leveraged social media to criticize the government dictatorship in China ate the “Ministry of Winnie Affairs”. The group criticized the involvement of the Chinese government in the Russia-Ukraine conflict by suggesting that China would export disinformation to Ukraine rather than humanitarian aid (Chiang & Shepherd, 2022). These comments were meant to satirize the Chinese communist party, which claims that Taiwan is part of the Chinese territory. These trends indicate the use of social media, such as blogs, to tackle the military aggression of the ruling elites in China head-on. This kind of satire could otherwise have been muted by the government in the mainstream media. Despite the success of some of these social media political satires to achieve success, some have received censorship from the Chinese government. For example, a satirical cartoon was scarped from a Hong Kong-based Ming Pao online newspaper following complaints from the government authorities (Person & James Pomfret, 2023). The comic strip posted by the newspaper was scraped off by pressure from the Chinese government, indicating that the growing media freedom in the country is still experiencing a challenge. In the first instance, political satire through online media indicated the growing freedom of the media. But weighing on what occurred after Ming Pao online newspaper this year, it could be noted that the Chinese media was still in Transition. In this case, being in Transition indicates that the freedom and independence of the media have not yet been achieved as the government continues to censor some of the media that satirize it. These trends indicate that the use of digital media to revolt against the government, despite experiencing significant improvements, is not mature in Asian countries such as China, where the government still decide what is considered acceptable and unacceptable satire (Tai and Fu, 2020). The freedom of online media is, therefore, still in the development phase in these countries.
This essay provides an analysis of the ways I think the media in Asia is still in Transition. In the essay, I have discussed social media’s influence on democratization and the use of social media to challenge authoritarian regimes. In my first argument, I indicated how social media had contributed to the participation of citizens in the social processes in ways that contradicted the mainstream media affiliated with the political elites. Despite these advancements, social media use degenerated into misinformation and manipulation of the voting public, which I viewed as undermining democracy. The lack of regulation and scrutiny of the information shared during the coverage indicated that social media was not yet mature in Asian countries. In the second scenario, I provided an argument on the influence of social media on political satire. The trends indicated that various groups used social media to criticize the Chinese government through cartoons. Despite recent suggestions that social media censorship of political satire had declined, the analysis I provide indicates that the government still undermines the freedom of the media. In this analysis, it is clear that the governments of some Asian countries are not serious about providing freedom to the media.
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