Campware is an organization that is an initiative of the Media Development Loan Fund, Inc., a New York-registered public charity organization. Personally I will contribute to that organization by developing an open source platform, for independent news media organizations with support by the Reuters Foundation. The idea is to create an online newsroom, which can be used by journalists and other communicators in emerging democracies.
That sounds like a great plan, but is there really a need for such a platform and is such a platform really a good business?
I am a 29 year old guy borned and raised in Sweden, a neat wonderful little place in northern Europe. I have been fed with information about everything since I made my stumbling steps in this world (and probably even before that). Ever since kindergarden I have been taught how to behave towards my fellow human beings, and to treat other people with respect regardless of skin, ethnicity, cultural background religion. As I grew and started school, we read about in principal everything that has happened in history without anything being censored.
When I started the university the IT-boom began and I got my own internet connection and thought it was so cool I usually spent hours in front of the computer browsing the web for all sorts of information. I can honestly say that I can read whatever I want to. Basically, I have spent nine years of my time at university level including PhD studies, which has made me a full-feathered, full-blooded academic guy. I have become who I am because I’d lived in a country where that is possible, and more importantly because I know I have the right to do so.
Now consider some boy or girl in a developing country, emerging democracy, state run by a dictator or even just a troubled area. By troubled area I mainly mean occupied territorium. What kind of information will that boy or girl see? Who will provide that to them? What difference between that information and the information I can see, hear or read is there?
The most common answer to that question is to say that the main source of information that reaches that boy or girl is filtered, censored and even wrong. But can I honestly say that the information I read in Sweden is not? I answer that question no.
So what is the big difference?
Well as I see it, the most important characteristics of any democracy is the freedom of speech. If the information "spoken" is right or wrong is not of the highest relevance. The main issue is really to provide enough sources so that there really are multiple sources, because what is "right" information? Who is the one to say that anything is the truth? What is the basis for such a comment? If somebody say to me that the earth is flat, I can present that person with numerous scientific arguments that he or she is wrong, but I can never force him to admit that I am right.
Why? Because of the right to have an opinion. This discussion might seem a bit far out, and a bit too philosophical, but a big issue for the areas I mentioned previously is that the sources of news coverage are very scarce and limited. Then you can easily force an opinion on people. For instance look at Iran that spend billions of dollars on filtering the web for information that the regime does not feel is inline with what the people should hear or is the word of the devil. If you just see one kind of information, that will become the truth. The same is of course true in those areas where the number of free nationalwide newspapers are very few.
So what will an open-source newsmedia platform do then? I discussed this with a close friend. Think of two possible sights to build a house. One that is commonly hit my storms, earthquakes, landslides and thunderstorms, and one that is neat, flat and robust. Which one would you pick to build your house? Everyone will always answer the second one. The same situation is acctually true for investors in troubled areas. There are very few people wanting to invest in an area where your investment (that is your house) is unsafe and can be destroyed in a flash.
The open-source newsmedia platform will work the same way as hiring the right construction firm to make the sight clean, secure it from landslides, and make the house earthquake and storm safe. Such efforts will cost and by releasing the software under an open-source licence, one can however assure that money will not be an issue.
I have spent most of this blog entry trying to describe the need for an open-source news media platform. This is a very complex issue and this blog entry should be considered as an attempt to encapsulate some of the parts of it. The details of how to make this a sustainable solution will be covered by upcoming blog entries.