With the advent of the Internet, nowadays it seems very easy to publish information on the Internet's popular World Wide Web (WWW). The trends are here. In the face of new technologies, blogging and citizen journalism have increasingly played an active role in the delivery of news, leading to a debate that everyone can be a journalist. Determining a way to observe such assumption, I would like to use the SARS outbreak in Asia and the Asian tsunami 2004 as my case examples.
The reason for scoping out Asia is that several Asian countries have laws capable of limiting freedom of speech to their citizens. Like in North Korea, the right to freedom of speech on the Internet is suppressed by the National Security Law that 'gives broad powers to the government to restrict speech and to prevent support or discussion of North Korea' (Privacy International 2003). While in Malaysia, restrictions imposed on free speech are enshrined in legislation, Article 10 of the Constitution, such as 'Sedition Law, Laws for Licensing of Newspapers, Defamation Laws, and Freedom of Assembly' (Wu 2005, p.5). These laws are considered damaging journalism in the country. Therefore, blogs are believed able to 'rout around laws restricting free speech' because those laws seem meaningless in cyberspace (Wu 2005, p. 6).
Lih (2004, p. 6) stated that the year 2003 might have marked the beginning of an era in Asia-region web logs. It was indicated by the first Asia-region web log awards, conducted by Phil Ingram, an expatriate web logger in Hong Kong, of Flyingchair.net. Blogs slowly became attractive until the 2003 outbreak of SARS in Asia initiated a sudden brief increase in the number of blogs and blog readers who were searching for more information about a respiratory disease which is known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In Malaysia, SARS became a major issue when the Malaysian Home Ministry 'had officially directed all major English-language newspapers to "adjust" their reports on SARS' by not mentioning fatalities (Wu 2005, p. 7). Due to 'the government's lack of transparency', a Malaysian IT consultant, blogger, photographer and politician Jeff Ooi started to write information about SARS and the progression on his blog known as Screenshots...(Wu 2005, p. 8). He then discovered that the readers of his blog came not only from Malaysia, but also from some other countries. In this way, Jeff Ooi attempted to show uncertainty and confusion caused by mainstream journalism in Malaysia regarding the disease.
The extent of bloggers' power became apparent in 2004, when an undersea earthquake on the Richter scale of 9.3 occurred off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia resulting in tsunamis that devastated coasts bordering the Indian Ocean in countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Burma and Somalia. This has been clarified by Wu (2005, p. 14) who stated that 'within hours of the earthquake, the blogging community in Penang (the Malaysian island hit by the tsunami) … began writing about their personal experience on feeling the earthquake tremors and providing localised updates on the effects of … [the catastrophes]'. In this situation, many citizen journalists took their role seriously as reporters of actual news. They helped professional journalists gather news and information when they could not arrive at the same time as the event was happening. There were also some accounts from citizen journalists who were the eyewitnesses of the events, sharing 'their very personal stories of survival, helplessness and loss' in the Guardian (30 December 2004). Conclusively, bloggers and citizen journalists appeared to be an information source both for the public and for mainstream media.
However, the key to good journalism is reporting and ethical inquiry, becoming preoccupations in that profession. In this context, journalism is different from fictional writing that appears very dominant in blogging due to the abundance of information on the Internet. In discussing the issues in relation to the importance of reporting in journalism, it has been shown 'reporting means observing the world and listening to the views of others with an open mind, and reporting those observations and views as accurately as possible' in which 'personal opinions and feelings are only a small part' of what you must write (McGill 2007). In reporting, reporters also need to have good sources in which 'good sources take care of reporters … and provide background information that makes their stories more authentic' (Smith 2003, p. 166). Accordingly, the role of asking people for interviews appears difficult for bloggers and citizen journalists because they are not licensed to practice journalism like other professional journalists.
Two case studies presented above support an existing theory that the role of a journalist is changing in a multimedia world, and thus the interpretations of a journalist itself are various, showing that any definition of a journalist is not simple. Hence, everyone may be able to be a journalist, yet still they have not been able to become a professional journalist regarding accountability and ethics in real journalism. As the power and effect of blogging and citizen journalism increasingly grow, it is challenging for every journalist to heap the values of contemporary journalism. A journalist, therefore, should learn how to read, to think, and to write in a professional way; hence what defines a professional journalist.
Guardian 30 December 2004, 'Scenes from a disaster', viewed 10 November 2008, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/dec/30/tsunami2004.features11>.
Lih, A 2004, 'Participatory journalism and Asia: from web logs to Wikipedia', in 13th Asian Media Information & Communications Centre Annual Conference: ICT & Media Inputs & Development Outcomes Impact of New & Old Media Development in Asia, Journalism and Media Studies Centre University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, pp. 1 – 27.
McGill, D 2007, 'The importance of reporting', The LARGEMOUTH Citizen Journalism Manual, viewed 10 November 2008, < http://www.mcgillreport.org/largemouth.htm#anchor10>.
Privacy International 2003, Silenced – South Korea, viewed 9 November 2008, .
Smith, RF 2003, Groping for ethics in journalism, 5th edn, Blackwell Publishing, Iowa.
Wu, TH 2005, 'Let a hundred flowers bloom: a Malaysian case study on blogging towards a democratic culture', in 20th BILETA Conference: Over-Commoditised; Over-Centralised; Over-Observed: the New Digital Legal World?, British & Irish Law, Education and Technology Association, the UK, pp. 1 – 22.