Ideologically, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created, a utopian world of transparency was decreed. This utopian ideal was imagined to be intricately linked to our apparently universal morals. And the media is a right in and of itself, due to its abilities to hopefully help stop future atrocities. Within the last quarter of a century, the news media has changed drastically, seeing the rise of twenty four hour broadcasting, the internet and the rise in citizen journalism through the pervasive use of Twitter. This constant noise has made sure the public is now having an active participatory role in media.
When we discuss the promotion of human rights we tend to mean the awareness of, and the prompt reporting of abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Much has been written about how established media outlets should promote human rights and how their perceived dogma is compromised by interested parties, and recent case studies have proven it is only with the public taking ownership of their ‘media’ that we are seeing a real difference being made.
Media and human rights both have blurred definitions. The power behind the media lies in the significance of freedom of expression, often linked with freedom of speech. It is a vitally important right for the media, as it is the method through which the expression of views takes public form. In its most recognized modern format this is Article 19. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 is of pivotal importance as it impinges on other articles and if not fulfilled, many feel, can curb other rights; limiting democracy. However, there are different interpretations to the way this is understood internationally; there is a common recognition that the right to hold an opinion and freedom of expression can be seen as one composite right. The right to a freedom of opinion is recognized as an absolute right; our freedom to express them is subjected to limitations by our respective governments.
We are all part of the media, and even more so now are in a new age populated by citizen journalists who act as government watchdogs. The relative anonymity of the internet means that the public feels comfortable in their freedom of expression. Some argue that citizen journalism curtails the prevalence of yellow journalism and ideally brings to the forefront human rights violations as they pertain to the individuals currently in question. It used to be “an old cliché that journalists wrote the first draft of history”, now it is citizens all over the world whether they be partaking in the Arab Spring or writing for The Risky Shift. This means that we the citizens are the ones demanding for human right abuses to be culled, and we have the power. Or so we would like to think. But biases still remains, have a look at your twitter feed and you’ll notice that all those you follow have a similar political agenda.
This new media can be seen to inform traditional news, not entirely eliminating the need for professional journalists, who can then inform the wider public by reporting on human rights abuses through their own access to a global forum raising awareness and prompting action from bodies with power. New media has allowed us to be engaged with the events happening around us, and as such the ‘better’ citizens we become by being more informed. This is the type of media we need when promoting human rights; an investigative media that demands that we take notice and make a difference. If we are not going to be actively taught what our inherent rights are, new media will educate us.
State-owned media is known to be biased, sometimes blatantly; more often than not denying or not reporting human rights abuses. It may even report abuses in a positive light leading to news that is no less skewed than propaganda. Private media is not necessarily better as they often pursue power, and profit; as evidenced by the Leveson Inquiry. Thus there is a tendency to report “exciting” profitable news rather than cover social justice issues. The rise of social awareness and citizen journalism is a backlash towards corporate media. The manipulation of information to bolster national interests, or military and strategic objectives, both on behalf of private and public media especially in the current climate, is a reality all journalists face. However, it is thought that journalists of a high standard from independent media outlets will renounce this, but this is not always the case even if it should be. A lack of trust has begun to permeate the media that online news and citizen journalists have started to act as a buttress against the misinformation that traditional media spurs. It has also incited public debate on a more personal level to promote human rights and their abuses. In the last five years there has been a blind acceptance of what mass media has reported and its bias, however the public is now answering back and setting the agenda. That’s not to say this new citizen journalism isn’t privy to bias, you need to look no further than the furore surrounding Kony and ‘slacktivism’.
With the rise of new media, social networking, and citizen journalists in the future we may have a generation of informed citizens aware of their human rights. With the help of new media to diversify news content, democracy will be placed at the forefront by the fact it is operated by citizens.When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, it was dreamt that each citizen would carry a copy and promote both theirs and their neighbors’ inherent rights. Although this was never the case, citizen journalists might be manipulating the dream for the 21st century.