Demystifying democracy in the digital age: Determining the democratic potential of participatory journalism in Zimbabwe

Bruce Mutsvairo

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Abstract

It has been repeatedly claimed that freedom of expression is the lifeblood of democracy (See Fog, 2004; Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009; Bhattacharyya & Hodler, 2012). We are made to believe that media and democracy are inseparable, which perhaps explains why the two words are often used interchangeably. Contemporary media research has moved to focus more on the democratic potentiality of participatory journalism (Carlson, 2007; Deuze et.al., 2007); De Zuniga, 2009; Kaufhold et al., 2010) The emergence of new media platforms is thus expectedly rejuvenating long-standing debate on the role of media in democracy. Better still, empirical research has credited participatory journalism for example with helping free up the democratic space in several countries including China (Reeze & Dai, 2009), the U.S. (Young, 2008) and Burma (Pidduck, 2010). Only a handful of studies have however documented the democrtic potentiality of content wholly-produced and shared among untrained media professionals on the AFrican continent. This study uses Zimbabwe as a case study to investigate the democratic significance of participatory journalism. Traditionally, Zimbabwe has dominated headlines in the West for several reasons including the perceived repression on the part of the government towards free press. Journalists seen as critical to President Robert Mugaba's government have allegedly been arrested while independent newspapers are said to have been closed down. But for some, the Internet has changed the rules of the game forcing previously authoritarian governments, including Zimbabwe's, to open up. Critiquing Rheingold (1993)'s utopian view that the Internet has democratising potential, this study argues based on a three-month ethnographical assessment of citizen comments appearing in the contry's two major publications (NewZimbabwean.com and The Zimbabwean.co.uk) that the major democratic contribution of citizen journalism is rather its ability to enable Zimbabweans to tell stories from their own perspectives, a chance never accorded to them by both the state and Western media in general.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSPT 2013: Technology in the Age of Information, 18th International conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology
Place of PublicationLisbon
PublisherSociety for Philosophy and Technology
Pages67-67
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2013
Event18th International conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology: Technology in the Age of Information - Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 4 Jul 20136 Jul 2013
Conference number: 18th

Publication series

Name
PublisherSociety for Philosophy and Technology

Conference

Conference18th International conference of the Society for Philosophy and Technology
Abbreviated titleSPT 2013
CountryPortugal
CityLisbon
Period4/07/136/07/13

Keywords

  • METIS-302452
  • IR-95907

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