How communities are turning to social media when traditional media fails them: #Thx_Tom_Collins and Bahrain

Professor Tom Collins was the subject of a public campaign on the social media site Twitter. Supporters thanked him via the hashtag #Thx_Tom_Collins for his political stance and decision to resign (credit: Irish Times)

As the Middle East’s media channels have become polarized over the past 24 to 30 months, communities who find that they have little if any representation in these traditional media channels have made social media their medium of choice when spreading and disseminating their viewpoints and opinions.

A great example from Bahrain this week was a campaign organized to thank the Professor Tom Collins, the president of the Bahrain campus of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), for his decision to resign from his post after the cancellation of a major conference on medical ethics in island. The RCSI had hoped to facilitate the event at its Bahrain campus but the key organizer Médecins Sans Frontières cancelled the event shortly before it was to be held.

Professor Collins resigned after the news of the conference’s cancellation broke. He has been roundly condemned in Bahrain’s national media for his decision which he said was done “in protest over the cancellation of the two-day event which was to examine “medical ethics and dilemmas in situations of political discord or violence.” The conference’s themes were sensitive in Bahrain following widespread arrests of medics in early 2011 at the country’s main hospital and their subsequent trials, a number of which are still ongoing.

The Twitter-based campaign was launched on Thursday 28th March at 8pm Bahrain time and was organized primarily by many of the medical community in Bahrain who were arrested over the course of the two years.Their message was clear and I’ll post some of the most popular tweets below.

What I find fascinating about the above is the role of the media during a time of crisis. For me, media such as newspapers can have a viewpoint but journalists should (theoretically) report the facts. When you’re disenfranchising such a large proportion of the population what happens to that newspaper not only during a crisis but after the crisis has passed, when agreements are made and a compromise is drawn up. With traditional media suffering globally due to a loss of public trust should editors be fighting the demand to be so overtly biased? What are your thoughts?