Final Kyoto-Trans Asian Dialogue examines Asia’s digital media revolution

Microblogs, Youtube, and mobile communications. These are a few of the digital platforms changing how we connect, and subsequently, reshaping global societies. 

Confluence of technology and pervasive desire for information has in effect created widespread adoption. There is no doubt the Information Technology (IT) revolution is in full swing.

Comparing case studies across Asia and the United States, the fifth and final Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue considered opportunities and challenges posed by digital media. Experts and top-level administrators from Stanford and universities across Asia, as well as policymakers, journalists, and business professionals, met in Kyoto on Sept. 12-13, 2013.

Relevant questions asked included: What shifts have occurred in traditional versus digital media for how people get information, and how does this differ across countries? What is the potential for digital media in civil society and democratization? Is it a force for positive change or a source of instability?

In the presentations and discussion sessions, participants raised a number of key, policy-relevant points, which are highlighted in the Dialogue’s final report. These include:

Digital media does not, on its own, automatically revolutionize politics or foster greater democratization. While the Internet and digital media can play an instrumental role, particularly where traditional media is highly controlled by the government, participants cautioned against overemphasizing the hype. One conception is that the Internet can instead be viewed as a catalyst or powerful multiplier, but only if a casual chain of latent interest exists. That being said, greater exposure of youth to digital media, particularly in areas of tight media control, can open new areas of awareness.

The upending of traditional media business models has not been replaced by viable digital media business models. As media organizations struggle with their business models, the quality of reporting is threatened. For traditional organizations, maintaining public trust can be challenging, particularly during wars after disasters, while in areas with previously tightly controlled press, digital media may be perceived as more authentic. On the one hand, policy-driven agenda setting may be easier in some issue areas, but digital media may amplify interest in controversial issues, particularly with history issues in Asia.

As Cloud Computing platforms provided by a small group of mostly U.S. companies is increasingly the underlying platform for digital media—as well as our digital lives in general—issues of information security and privacy are at the forefront of much of the public’s mind. Revelations by former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of the US government’s espionage activities raise concerns among journalists concerned with issues such as free speech of the press, media independence from government, and protection of sources. 

Previous Dialogues have brought together a diverse range of scholars and thought leaders from Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Australia and the United States. Participants have explored issues such as the global environmental and economic impacts of energy usage in Asia and the United States; the question of building an East Asian regional organization; and addressing higher education policy and the dramatic demographic shift across Asia.

The annual Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue was made possible through the generosity of the City of Kyoto, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, and Yumi and Yasunori Kaneko.