Since the dawn of the Internet, alternative media has taken various shapes and forms. Academic definitions state that this type of media differs from established or dominant types of media in terms of its production, distribution and content. In the South African context, alternative media entails that these sources of news do not follow the flow of mainstream media. Alternative media in South Africa has grown to launch different narratives in a time where many feel that their voices are not heard through the clutter of political correctness, transformative rhetoric and the general disregard for objectivity.
The boundaries between conventional and alternative media have become blurred in recent years, creating favourable circumstances for new publications. Newspapers have ventured into digital video production and radio stations have their own online news content to read. As mainstream media try to monopolise the newly-created possibilities in media, cracks were left which alternative media now fills (and even expands). This is simply how the market works. As soon as a demand for something arises, it will often be met with somebody or something which will meet that demand.
News has become interactive and it is made in real time. It is not surprising, then, that news reporting seems to be a thing of the past as it is being replaced by news engagement. Alternative media offers more for readers to engage and interact with. The reason alternative media is so popular, is due to the fact that it goes past the ‘what, when, and where’ of news reporting and focuses on the ‘why, who, and how’. This change of focus is what many readers find attractive. Social media has become the playground of alternative media. The nature of alternative media leads to more in-depth engagement on topics – and it is this engagement on a personal level that readers want. One does not need to look any further than a comparison between the engagement on the comment section of traditional media sources and alternative media sources. The discussion in that of the latter is alive and freedom of speech is kicking.
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This type of media already plays a crucial role in our South African society – and, indeed, the world. The constitutional cliché that the media plays a vital role in a democracy was based on the assumption that the media should be a forum for diverse opinions and vibrant discussion, as it is the marketplace of ideas. With mainstream media following many created narratives as though this were Hamelin, other media is starting to fill this niche. Mainstream media in South Africa as a watchdog of the government still often plays its role – but the areas in which mainstream media is lacking, are the places alternative media achieves so much. The role of the media (and, in particular, alternative media) is not just to keep the government and its officials in check, but to also keep political narratives true to reality.
Alternative media challenges the status quo from all sides of the political divide. It keeps two fingers on the pulse of our country and many media sources give voice to even the faintest heartbeat. And it is within these minute heartbeats that we keep freedom of expression alive.