World Freedom Press Day Panelists Discuss New Media in Emerging Democracies

                       Photo of Egyptian Facebook page

At the World Freedom Press Day Conference today in Washington, DC, held at the Newsuem a session titled “Mapping How Media Makes a Difference” covered the role of media in developing countries and new democracies. Mexico, Egypt, Zambia and Tanzania were some countries that were discussed in the session. A pervasive theme in this session was the digital divide and how illiteracy is still a barrier for many people in third world countries and developing democracies. In Egypt alone one third of the population is illiterate. In countries like Tanzania were the literacy rate is even lower mobile phone use is the primary mode of news and information gathering. Most of the individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa who do have access to new media receive messages via sms on their cell phones and many listen to the radio on their cell phones as well.

Another important point raised was how access to information does not always guarantee the transfer of information. Rasha Abdulla, Associate Professor at the American University of Cairo noted that the revolution in Egypt was not only brought on by the Internet. “The important lesson for Arabs," she said, "was horizontal communication. People began to talk to one another. For years in Egypt there were people talking at you not to you." In Egypt today there are 588 million Facebook users. In Sub-Saharan Africa where digital infrastructure does not exist, mobile phones are the most important tool for digital information and communication. Overall the session stressed the importance of investment in “free media” outside of the corporate structure where government and financial markets can influence content and editors.