Does the Internet offer more legitimate forms of public access than old ‘alternative’ media?

Posted by | March 9, 2014 | New Media | No Comments

The Internet is continually gaining wider reach.  More and more people can gain access to the Internet through personal computers, televisions, mobile phones and game consoles. The public’s access to the Internet in various forms will only increase over time.

Goldman (1995) highlights the Internets mix of immediacy, interactivity and accessibility.  Those flexible characteristics are a reason for its growing appeal.  The use of web-based platforms is a means for cheap and open access to discussion and debate.  Mainstream press is largely one-way traffic and the old alternative media is limited in its ability to respond.  Goldman (1995) believes the public discourse once carried out in places like Hyde Park is now carried out on the Internet, PC’s and laptops have taken the place of soapboxes and podiums.  Old media focus on profit.  Alternative media outlets instead place more importance on the message rather than the market.  The Internet has provided alternative media with a wonderful tool to disseminate information.

The anti-capitalist movements use of Internet communications is an example of how the new media offer new spaces and mechanisms for radical political organization (Kellner, 2001).  Bronstein believes radical political activism is reaching a global stage largely due communication technologies and the electronic transfer of information. Bronstein (2005) suggests that the prominence of independent websites and alternative media formats may mean traditional media is now obsolete for social movements.

Nick Couldry (2005) offers a view of an active and diverse global media landscape, where alternative media can challenge the mainstream by taking media production resources into their own hands. As the mainstream media failed to represent movement grievances it was left to activists to foster visibility.  This in turn led to the pioneering use of communication technology including the creation of independent Websites that bring their view of globalization to the world.  The Internet has been used to aid mobilization efforts.  Greenpeace and unions are using the Internet to sway public opinion (Wim van de Donk, 2004).

Houston (2000) describes the Internet as being built as a delivery system.  Non-profit and non-governmental agencies now offer comprehensive web sites and people can now access a wide variety of approaches to news on the Internet.  Houston (2000) believes the Internet gives voice, training and exposure to people and communities who are otherwise not visible.  Public access has given the opportunity for people whom have something to say to say it to anyone who cares to watch and listen.  Couldry  (2005) claims the Internet has enabled people in remote corners of the world to participate as global citizens.  The audience has been a passive voice in old media (Bronstein, 2005).  New communication technology has seen the advent of a fragmentation of the media. This has given the audience unaccustomed power over the communication process.   The audience now has editorial control and unparalleled access.  The Internet empowers sender and receiver and people now see themselves as in charge or setting the agenda (Hirst & Harrison, 2007).

Are information and communication technologies reaching all levels of society? Hirst & Harrison (2007) argues that the necessary infrastructure is still not available to some social groups and that it is now an insurmountable problem.  Hirst (2007) mentions the slow uptake of the Internet amongst regional, female, indigenous, migrant and older sections in Australia.  Martin Lister also argues that access to cyberspace remains a scarce resource, which is determined by economic and social power.

Lister believes that non-universal access is a feature of the Internet and that it will never be as powerful as the Television.  With television we all shared the same kind of technology more or less, as opposed to the Internet.  Advancements in software and computers create uneven access conditions.  Those with the better communication technologies will have faster access to the Internet.  The need to upgrade constantly leaves users with unequal levels of access.  Lister believes the disparities to Internet access is based on economic inequalities.  The digital divide reproduces the exact inequalities that are already prevalent in society.  Barber (2006) suggests that those who might most benefit from the nets information potential are least likely to access to it.  They do not have the tools to gain access and if they do, they don’t have the educational background to take advantage of them.  Barber (2006) considers those with access tend to already be empowered in the system by education, income and literacy. Hirst (2007) suggests the demographic of the Internet using public is dominated by middle to upper class males.  This creates a socio-cultural divide in access to new media technologies.

The Internet has changed landscape of the media.  Online big city newspapers are competing with alternative web sites.  Blogs have remained popular with the younger audience as they allow readers to post comments and directly participate.  Computer bulletin boards are also another great tool on the Internet to facilitate discussion.  Knowledge of media production and the ability to produce media and disseminate it to the public via the Internet is increasing.  The consumer can become the producer via online journals, podcasts, vodcasts and personal home pages.  Those who have been silenced or marginalized now have a greater ability to be heard when they speak.  A good deal of civic discussion takes place on the Internet through public forums, online journalism and activist organizations (Dahlgren, 2004). We now have a single global economy, which has increased the reach of organizations (Lister, 2002).  McChesney (1998) argues the Internet will not launch viable commercial competitors. He believes good journalism requires resources and institutional support.  McChesney (1998) highlights the importance of a healthy non-profit and non-commercial media sector, independent of big business and government. Can the Internet provide this?

The Internet remains as an incomparable communicative civic space (Dahlgren, 2004).  Dahlgren (2004) suggests it helps promote alternative public spheres that offer an empowering sense of what it means to be a citizen.

The old alternative media was unable to cover the current news of the day and they were only able to reach a small audience.  The Internet has amazing speed and immediacy and empowers those who can use it to reach a mass audience quickly.  The global communication and mobilization required using old media would be extremely costly and time consuming.  The Internet is convenient and efficient.  It can mobilize citizens, build new communities, increase political discourse, and public activism (Rosenkrands, 2004).  While some social groups still do not have sufficient access to the Internet it still offers more legitimate forms of public access than old alternative media.



Barber, Benjamin R. “Pangloss, Pandora or Jefferson? Three scenarios for the future of technology and strong democracy.” In “The New Media Theory Reader” Open University Press: New York (2006)

Bronstein, Carolyn. “Journalism & Mass Communication Educator,” Columbia: Winter 2005. Vol.59, Iss. 4;  pg. 427, 3 pgs

Couldry, Nick & Curran, James  “Contesting Media Power” In “Journalism & Mass Communication Educator,” Columbia: Winter 2005

Dahlgren, Peter “Forward” In “Cyberprotest: New media, citizens and social movements” Routledge: London, New York (2004)

Donk, Wim Van De, Loader, Brian D., Nixion, Paul G. & Rucht, Dieter “Introduction:social movements and ICTs” In “The New Media Theory Reader” Open University Press: New York (2006)

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Kellner, Douglas “Techno-politics, new technologies, and the new public spheres,” in Illuminations, January (2001)

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McChesney, Robert W., Wood, Ellen Meiksins & Foster, John Bellamy “Capitalism and the information age : the political economy of the global communication revolution” Monthly Review Press: New York (1998)

Rosenkrands, Jacob “Politizining Homo economicus: analysis of anti-corporate websites” In “Cyberprotest: New media, citizens and social movements” Routledge: London, New York (2004)

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