Social media vs mainstream news media

Readers or viewers or listeners, the key stakeholders for media, tend to put faith in the authenticity of the news, which differentiates the media

Shamim A. Zahedy

Sohagi Jahan Tanu, the 19-year-old history student, was found dead in the vicinity of Comilla Cantonment on the night of 20th March 2016 by her father Yar Hossain, who himself is an office assistant of Cantonment Board. But the cruel murder nearly remained unnoticed and undetected in the scanners of Bangladeshi mainstream news media for four long days. The mainstream media had managed to emerge from their comfortable cubicles only after social media launched a scathing campaign to seek justice for the murder of the unfortunate girl from Comilla Victoria College. 

Initial media reports suggested the girl, who was returning home from her part-time job as a private tutor, was raped before she was killed. However, the first autopsy of the body did not find any sign of rape before the death of the girl. The first autopsy report was made public after 15 days of the brutal murder.

The social media outcry eventually forced authorities and law enforcers to break silence. “The unconscious body of the 19-year-old college student was found in the bordering area of the cantonment by her father around 11:00pm on Sunday and he informed the military police,” the Inter-service Public Relations (ISPR) said in a release.

“Right away, Tanu was taken to the Combined Military Hospital and there the duty-doctor declared her dead.”

“Efforts to dig out the reason behind the murder of Tanu are already underway and the army authorities are extending all-out support to the police/administration,” said the release signed by Md Reza-ul Karim Shammi, assistant director of the ISPR.

And then everyone came to the aid of the cause: police moved; courts ordered exhumation of the body for re-autopsy; ministers warned of stern action; members of parliament called for justice and chairman of National Human Rights Commission voiced concern.      

It is fairly understood that since the incident took place in the vicinity of cantonment, the mainstream media took more time than usual to report this particular incident of Tanu murder. And there was no word from authorities initially. Media usually need to verify any info before making news stories ready for readers or viewers. Processing news items for media involves a fair bit of rigorous process or course of action, which takes some time as well. For balanced and quick news media coverage cooperation and support are also required from all quarters especially from law enforcers.  

Here comes the debate that is getting louder and louder these days that whether the mainstream news media are being replaced by the social media: do people really care for orthodox media outlets when social media are super quick and super fast?

The fact remains the same that no one can replace anyone: everyone has own niche role and one complements the other, only warranting the beauty of diversity, and ultimately contributing to pluralistic views, opinions, ideas and thoughts.

Readers or viewers or listeners, the key stakeholders for media, tend to put faith in the authenticity of the news, which differentiates the media. It is tough for the stakeholders to put faith in social media stories as these articles do not go through the process the mainstream news reports undergo.

Take an example: in a November 2014 post, a Facebooker described how he was hit by a pickup van of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Dhaka Metro Thha 11-6140) while he was riding a bicycle on a Dhaka street. The Facebooker, who also posted a photograph of the police vehicle, said he called for an explanation as his bicycle was slightly damaged. “I didn’t hit your cycle,” the police van driver was quoted as saying. “So how did the rear wheel get bent?” quipped the Facebooker. “I hit your leg, not your cycle,” the driver reportedly told the man ‘without any remorse’.

After the man shared his experience on Facebook, it received a huge response, even forcing a newspaper to make a news story the following day. All but the close acquaintances of the Facebooker cannot rely on the story as it lacks the editorial judgement, verification and authentication: there has been no version of the accused and there has been no account of witness.

For mainstream news media the case is quite complex: turn to much talked-about Panama Papers. It all started with a message to a German newspaper from an anonymous source, “Hello, this is John Doe. Interested in data?”

The reporters of Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Munich-based newspaper, worked for more than two months to verify the documents of secret financial transactions. Finding it difficult to cope with data, the German newspaper’s five-person investigations team turned to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington, D.C., which has the experience to work on previous global projects relating to financial data leaks.

The ICIJ assembled some 400 journalists from more than 100 news organisations in 80 countries, taking more than a year to publish the news stories.

Apart from age-old political pressures, there have been some inherent limitations for mainstream news media as well: all media cannot publish or broadcast all news. Why?

 Envision, a business house or an eatery, was fined by competent authorities such as a mobile court for selling spurious merchandise or adulterated foodstuff, but that is not news for ‘The Daily AAA’ or ‘111 Television’ or ‘Radio +++’  only because a mother corporate house owns both media outlets and the business establishments.

Besides serving the owner’s interest, mainstream news media also serve or are forced to serve ‘good’ advertisers, who always try to stop ‘bad press’ in exchange for advertisements.  

And of course, the state-sponsored ‘embedded journalism’, which came to the limelight for mainstream media coverage of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, does not help either as media outlets are always accused of bias.

So, are the mainstream media destined to be chained, shackled and fettered? How will the free press be ensured? The simple solution remains in diversity of media outlets: what is non-news for XYZ is news for ZYX or vice versa.

For the particular case of Tanu murder, social media, especially the Facebook with around 1.40 crore users in Bangladesh, have made a point. Credit goes to the social media.

13 April, 2016 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 29 November, 2016 05:15:50 PM


The writer is Executive Editor of

The Independent. E-Mail :

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