[VIEWPOINT]All the news absent of standardsThe Internet is defining communication as never before with its incredibly rapid pervasiveness. Comparing the time from introduction to ubiquity of each of the public media that is socially influential today we find that hundreds of years passed before the printed media reached an audience of 50 million; for radio the period of time was 38 years, and television 13 years. The Internet, on the other hand, took only 4 years. This tells us that the Internet is definitely different.
The main purpose of using the Internet is to gain access to information and entertainment. In this, it is no different from the other mass media. But the more traditional media, such as newspapers and television, are one-way communication. Participation by the audience is allowed to a certain extent but essentially, the traditional media are closed media.
The Internet is an open medium. Internet users can actively search for information and entertainment. They participate in various ways. Through participation, the user is both the consumer and producer of information and entertainment, a truly revolutionary situation. One of the main reasons Internet users show a higher level of satisfaction than users of traditional media is the fact that the Internet is a medium that allows participation. However, the unregulated free zone of anonymity on the Internet requires self-restraint.
The new government has announced that it will reconfigure relations with the media, including the opening of a press briefing room. The government’s announcement brings our attention to the role the Internet will play. Sixty percent of Korea’s population uses the Internet and 16.7 million have access to high-speed service. Considering the numbers, it can easily be seen that the Internet has built a foundation to play an equal or bigger role in providing information and molding public opinion than the traditional media.
Internet news reflects the characteristics of that media. As seen in the case of OhmyNews, an Internet news provider with 2,500 volunteer journalists, the readers of Internet news are a prime example of consumers and providers of information.
Voluntary participation raises the level of satisfaction as well as the loyalty of readers to a medium. This could be an advantage for Internet news sites in setting the social agenda and forming public opinion. However, this characteristic of the Internet is also an obstacle to Internet news providers establishing themselves as responsible gatherers and purveyors of information.
According to an Internet survey at the University of California at Los Angeles that tracked the usage and development of the Internet, Internet users are showing increasing skepticism about the reliability and accuracy of the information found online. The proportion of people who answered that they believed all the information found on the Internet fell from 2.9 percent in 2000 to 2.2 percent in 2002. In 2001, 56.1 percent answered that they believed most of the information found on the Internet, 50.6 percent gave the same answer in 2002.
If we consider the fact that the news media’s life is based on credibility and this credibility is based on accuracy of the information they provide, the results of the UCLA survey clearly show the hurdles Internet news providers need to overcome.
For the Internet to take its place as a reliable medium, it must exercise restraint, lest amateurism takes over professionalism due to the openness of the media.
Influencing public opinion is a major function of the media. Public opinion means an informed public opinion. The credibility and accuracy of the information is a precondition for the formation of sensible public opinion. Without credibility and accuracy, the news is not information to waken the public but mere noise.
For the Internet to fulfill its promise in mainstream society, more high-quality information and less noise should be available on its pages.
* The writer is a professor of journalism and mass communication at Kyung Hee University.
by Lee Kyung-ja