Dramatic new developments in information technology are exposing undemocratic regimes worldwide. These rapidly growing communication networks are weakening government control on information and besieging them. The blog is the latest incarnation of the digital revolution. A web log, or log, for short, represents the crowning achievement of modern technology, by adding a personal touch to news and information.
First introduced in the late nineties, a blog refers to specific sites on the internet where individuals publish their personal experiences and viewpoints on a variety of topics.
According to some estimates, there are more than five million weblogs on the internet. This figure is likely to soar in the coming years, as more people create their own personal websites. This rise reflects the need for fresh angles in analyzing the world around us.
Diaries and personal reflections published on blogs are displayed in a variety of designs and styles. Some individual sites feature pictures and private information, individuals don’t mind sharing. Others are developed by companies attempting to reach out to new customers using the latest technology. The focus, in most cases, is on providing an analysis of the latest political events and breaking news. Writers discuss incidents otherwise overlooked in the mainstream media, or relate current affairs to their personal experiences. Success depends, largely, on the personal input and style of each writer. He or she has tremendous power over public opinion and can become a source of original news and critique.
Today’s bloggers believe their role is to challenge restrictions imposed on media institutions and create new channels of expression, It is worth mentioning that a number of professional journalists now have a personal blog online, where they showcase articles and viewpoints too critical for their employers.
Salam Pax, writing from Baghdad , in the run up to the invasion of Iraq , became a hero of his own. His blog discussed daily life in the Iraqi capital and the imminent war. His writings caused much interest and controversy with journalists. During the crisis in Ukraine , last year, many blogs appeared reviewing the situation in the country. Last autumn’s US presidential election in the US saw a rise in the number of blogs where comments on the campaign and US politics were aired. On a global level, 2004 saw weblogs overtake major media networks and the beginning of the end of government information monopoly.
Questions were raised on the value of weblog journalism, the credibility and objectivity of the writers, and whether they apply the standards of neutrality and balance followed by media professional, the world over. Bloggers were attacked, in some quarters, and accused of not including sources for the information they publish and for writing without rules or any accountability. French newspaper Le Monde, realizing blogs were becoming increasingly popular, tried to contain the new phenomenon and reserved an entire page in the paper for discussions on the subject.
However, the majority of media corporations resisted the tendency to follow the ubiquitous writing style found in blogs, denouncing them as a threat to long established media empires, with their unique approaches. CNN, for example, put pressure on its Iraq correspondent, Kevin Sites, to stop running his blog. Despite the limited number of people who consult blogs, experts consider them an open forum where everyone can express their views and develop political opinions on events that are happening around us.
Blogs are most important in countries that restrict freedom of expression. It is no coincidence to find over 100 bloggers around the world under arrest or on trial. Bloggers have seized the initiative and signed a number of petitions and statements criticizing governments that prosecute fellow writers. The largest number of detainees, 63, is in China . In Iran , officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the popularity of blogs. It is understandable to see blogs thrive in the Islamic Republic since they provide an outlet for controversial opinion and ideas which newspapers are unable to publish. Blogs are so popular that even Iranian former Vice President, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, now has his own blog, where he discusses the nature of an Islamic state and its role in society.
In the Arab World, academic research shows that the number of weblogs is very low, reaching 400, compared to the millions around the world. This can be explained, in part, by the low number of internet users in the region, estimate at 4% of the population. Despite their limited number, governments are worried by the blog phenomenon, with Syria and Bahrain even arresting writers.
Across US universities and academic institutions, a discussion is currently taking place on this new means of communication and its effect on journalism. Some universities have started new departments devoted to blogs, with students specializing in learning about and analyzing this field. The University of Warwick , in England , believes the decision to offer its staff and student body space on its webpage, to establish their personal blogs, is justified. The administration feels the initiative will provide everyone with new opportunities to express themselves and create a wide exchange of knowledge and information.
The USA has the largest numbers of blogs, yet 60% of its population has never heard of them. Around 7% of the 120 million Americans internet users have their own weblog, with the majority being young educated men with high income. To follow the definition of an expert in communications, we live in the era of bloggers; soon, everyone one of us will have their own.