The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere

Posted by PrabhasPokharel on Jun 15, 2010
The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere data sheet 7508 Views
Janey Gordon
Publication Date: 
Jun 2009
Publication Type: 
Journal article

This article seeks to explore the influence of the mobile phone on the public sphere, in particular with regard to its effect on news agendas, gatekeepers and primary definers. Using the examples of the Chinese SARS outbreak (2003), the south-east Asian tsunami (December 2004), and the London bombings (July 2005), the author questions the extent to which the mobile phone is challenging conventional and official sources of information.

At times of national and personal calamity, mobile phone is used to document and report events from eyewitnesses and those closely involved. Using multimedia messages (MMS) or text messages (SMS) to communities of friends and families, as well as audio phone calls, mobile phone users may precede and scoop official sources and thwart censorship and news blackouts. They can also provide valuable evidence of what actually occurred. Users are able to take pictures and short films and transmit these rapidly to others along with reports of what is happening where they are; they are also able to access other media broadcasts and the internet. They are what have become known as `citizen journalists'.

The evidence suggests that mobile phone usage is contributing to the public sphere and in some instances is circumventing official repression or inadequate information. There is also an indication that the `mobcam' is capturing images that would otherwise be lost. However, the mainstream media has been quick to take advantage of this citizen journalism and mediate it within its own parameters.