It would have been quite remarkable if a utopia of participatory, interactive media had followed the arrival of new interactive technologies. But the excitement over technology ignores the extent to which power and old-media politics survive today. Instead of a revolutionary leap forward, “media democracy 1.5”—a combination of old and new media politics—better describes the current situation. Today, retrograde media politics blend with mobile telephony, social media and digital platforms. Opportunities for interactivity and participation overlap with barriers and actions to curb public expression and scrutiny. Colluding government and private interests coexist with citizen activism and innovative reporting. Social media do open up innovative possibilities for citizen participation and the circulation of diverse information. Yet the notion that new digital platforms inevitably catapult citizens to the center of public expression should be viewed cautiously. Traditional media have shown a remakable capacity to adjust to a new technological scenario, with governments and media businesses remaining formidable powers. Social media also are unable to counter government attempts to suppress dissent or prevent access to public records. Even without formal censorship mechanisms such as those in place under authoritarianism, some governments apply legal tactics to stifle criticism and discourage democratic expression. The discretionary allocation of public funds encourages sycophantic news and deters critical news. Social media cannot offer much of a counterweight to balance these heavy-handed tactics.

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