A MENACE is currently troubling some vanguards of traditional journalism: the menace called political bloggers. Reacting to the inclusion of political blogger Bruce Rivera to the list of Asean’s accredited media, in a Facebook post on August 7, veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona raised the issue of accountability. “Who do they answer to?” she asked.
“Blogging plays an invaluable role in the free flow of information worldwide and is a true example of the democratization of publishing in the online world,” said Agnes Callamard when she was still the Executive Director of Article 19, an international non-government organization advancing freedom of expression worldwide.
Democratization is the operative word. If Varona could have reflected more on its root word, then she should have known already the answer to her question. Bloggers, just like anyone who exercises freedom of expression, are accountable to the people. They are subject to the same restrictions on that freedom, just like everyone else.
However, in the context of Varona’s post, she might be thinking of a system of accountability that includes an editor or a company that could discipline the writer. This layer of authority and regulatory mechanism is absent in independent blogging. Is this a sign of accountability deficit? No.
In their publication entitled The Right to Blog, Article 19 rightfully emphasized that “bloggers are already regulated.” Article 19 explained: “like anyone, bloggers are already required to comply with the laws of the country in which they reside…Therefore, the suggestion that there should be ‘standards of acceptable behavior’ online beyond what is already required by law — akin to an enforceable code of civility or politeness online — is both unwarranted and overboard.”
Furthermore, bloggers are already subjected to rules set by the owner of the platform they use to propagate their ideas. For example, Facebook moderates offensive language and other socially unacceptable speech. Thus, bloggers can already be held accountable for whatever they produce. They do not exist outside the ambit of the same laws as Varona and her peers.
As I see it, the issue for some traditional journalists is not really bloggers’ accountability but their unprecedented power in shaping public discourse. Surely, political bloggers have existed ever since blogging became in vogue. The difference now is that bloggers wield more influence primarily because social media networks make it faster to disseminate ideas. The reach of bloggers is astronomical — to the tune of several millions per week.
Political bloggers are now doing to politics what fashion bloggers did to the fashion world.
The irreverent Bryanboy and the quirky and sharp Tavi Gevinson are some of the fashion bloggers who competed and outshone traditional fashion journalists who worked for a magazine, answering to editors.
At first traditional fashion writers looked down on fashion bloggers for the very same reasons some traditional journalists condescendingly dismissed political bloggers. Sometime in 2009, Gevinson “ruffled fashion feathers by wearing a giant bow in the front row of Christian Dior at Paris Fashion Week. Editors of established publications were deeply insulted…” (The Cusp, June 26, 2016). Not so different from how Rivera’s accreditation as part of the media raised the eyebrows of traditional journalism’s old vanguards.
Eventually, the influence of fashion bloggers and their ability to engage and maintain a connection with their audience merited them a place under the same sun as fashion journalists. Because fashion bloggers follow the beat of their own drum, they changed the game for the better with their iconoclast approach to fashion reporting.
More significantly they brought fashion closer to the people. That is what political bloggers will inevitably do to politics. Like fashion bloggers, they engage better with people because they are unconstrained by rules of formality demanded in traditional journalism, which can be alienating. Political bloggers provide a more approachable perspective on political issues. They can do that because they can instantaneously communicate with their audience, who could make or break a blogger’s career by a simple click.