Problems of information manipulation

We have been hearing for quite some time now that the society has reached the information age

We have been hearing for quite some time now that the society has reached the information age, a time when information means, if properly used, power, wealth, influence and control.

Last week two news items, both coming from Canada’s public broadcaster and focusing on information issues resonated widely.

The first one was the announcement that our government, through its various agencies and institutions, is gathering information on this country’s citizens “without regard for accuracy, currency and accountability” as stated by Canada’s interim privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier.

The statement emphasized that the information collected was being gathered from the social media accounts of individuals “for no good reason.”

There were hundreds of comments on the news from a wide variety of age groups some saying that Canada as we knew it was no more, others suggesting that the time of 1984 as predicted by George Orwell’s famous novel had arrived.

The last point does not seem to be an exaggeration any more: In addition to collecting information from social media sites, various government agencies are reported to have put in a total of 1.2 million requests to telecom companies for information on their subscribers over a period of one year.

So big brother is watching and privacy is almost nonexistent for any individual who is literate in communication technologies.

Whether this snooping on citizens can be justified as a necessary measure to ensure security and safety is mostly conditioned by where one stands in terms of political affiliation, with conservative right generally being in support of it.

The other news that surfaced was that CBC would have to lay off 657 staff due to the cuts in their budget.

And in protest at the decision, two of CBC’s most well known journalists, Alison Smith and Lynden MacIntyre have announced that they were leaving the public broadcaster. CBC, despite some of its shortcomings, remains as one of the few properly functioning public broadcasters in the world and like many other truly Canadian institutions, it has been suffering for years from various ways of interference by Stephen Harper’s government.

Since the 90s, when the introduction of satellite technology to electronic media made it impossible to remain in the market without a substantial capital base, broadcasting industry and, most importantly, broadcast journalism have lost a lot of their independence.

Since then journalism standards have seriously declined and the News of the World scandal that broke out in Britain a few years back showed that a media mogul like Rupert Murdoch could get away with unethical behaviour without impunity.

In short, as in almost every other sector, big media are now under the thumb of big money and organizations like CBC, which operate with public funding, are losing ground to privately owned broadcasters.

That will, probably in the near future, mean the death once and for all of high standards of journalism that once dictated the principles on which the public would be informed in an accurate and unbiased fashion.

With our personal information getting exposed through government intrusion and the way we receive our information being increasingly conditioned by the controllers of big money (which one can safely bet to be good bed fellows with government), one wonders if the information age is really working for the good of the citizenry.