Media Freedom

The problem of media freedom is one shared by all the actors who feature in Media and Politics in a Globalizing World. Political elites set the tone and police the parameters of what is acceptable to say, show, and share in the mediated messages that circulate thoughout society. For them, curbing media freedom can be a problem (if they are well-meaning and troubled about how to ensure pluralism while safeguarding the rights of individuals in multi-cultural societies) or a possibility (if they want to use their political and legislative power to silence opponents and maintain the status quo). Media owners wield considerable power and this can be both benign and malignant; a burdensome responsibility as well as a source of influence. In some political settings, the people running media outlets are faced with the problem of retaining editorial control and safeguarding the integrity of their publications and the safety of their staff while ensuring that publics get information that political elites would rather they didn’t. In economically troubled times, they often lack the resources to compete with political actors. Some media owners have more ignoble agendas, and their problem is instead how to ensure profits and resist regulation. For public-service media, the problem is to retain autonomy from politicians’ attempts to meddle in their charters; for journalists working for state-controlled media in authoritarian states and troubled democracies, it is to be able to do their job according to increasingly universal standards of objectivity. For correspondents everywhere, media freedom means being able to report without threat of repraisal (for them or their sources) or, in many cases, fear for their lives. It is a problem that they cannot. In the private sphere, ordinary people have to become media literate to be aware of, and protect themselves from, such infringements on reliable reporting. In countries with troubled democracies or other forms of governance, they are faced with the problem of sustained violations of their right to use social and other media to communicate what, and with whom, they choose. For people everywhere, on every level of society, in every actor category - including that of the scholar, be it student or professor - the problem is to determine where the line should be drawn between protection of the individual, and the right to freedom of expression and information.

media freedom in theory • problems confronting stakeholders • the dark side (neo-Nazis, Anonymous, internet hate) • In whose interests is media freedom invoked or regulated? The interests of capital and copyright owners and states vs the free flow of information and media texts.  

To think about: What role should the media play in polities that are increasingly multi-cultural and heterogenous?  

Key Concepts: positive and negative freedom of expression and information

Further reading

Picture: The freedom to report is severely limited in many countries throughout the world, and in most when states perceive national security to be threatened. This map charting the levels of media freedom throughout the world. Copyright Reporters without borders.

Primary Sources

Primary source material can be found on the websites of champions of media freedom:

Reporters without Borders (https://en.rsf.org) (the World Press Freedom Index 2014 can be downloaded as a PDF from https://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php)

Committee to Protect Journalists (https://www.cpj.org)

Index on Censorship (http://www.indexoncensorship.org). One research focus could be motivations for The Freedom of Expression Awards, which celebrate ‘extraordinary people and organizations who are champions to free expression’. Motivations for the 2014 nominees can be accessed at: Nominees: http://www.indexoncensorship.org/freedom-expression-awards-2014/. Another interesting document is the Index policy paper, Time to Step Up: The EU and Freedom of Expression can be downloaded from indexoncensorship.org. IoC claims the report shows the EU fails to honour the values it claims to uphold.

Freedom House (http://www.freedomhouse.org)

The National Hispanic Media Coalition, which monitors hate radio in the US (www.nhmc.org)

The European Broadcasters Union policy paper on media freedom (http://www3.ebu.ch/files/live/sites/ebu/files/Knowledge/Publication%20Library/EBU-Viewpoint-MediaFreedom_EN.pdf)

The Open Government Partnership (http://www.opengovpartnership.org)

Media reaction to the Leveson Report also says a good deal about different actor views on press freedom See for example: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-21797513.

Research topics

One approach to this topic is to work backwards, through classic texts from the Enlightenment (mentioned in Chapter 10 of the book) to arguments about freedom of speech and expression in a historical context. A key dimension for research here is comparative. Ideas about freedom of expression are rooted in a historical European context: how universal are they, and how appropriate is it that they are universal? The secret internet-based group Anonymous is a focus for a variety of issues pertaining to freedom of expression, as is the sea of reporting on the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden, and responses to them. Many topics are to be found in media reports themselves. The Listening Post, broadcast each week on Al Jazeera English and available on podcast and online, draws attention to infringements on media freedom worldwide. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/ The following may also provide ideas for studies: Egypt: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/threats-charges-reporting-egypt Syria: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/spanish-journalist-javier-espinosa-kidnap-syria Iran: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/27/briton-eight-jailed-iran-web-insults-facebook Turkey: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2014/01/turkey-media-sub-plot-201412575710632142.html http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/14/turkish-police-raid-opposition-media EU: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/nov/16/uk-press-freedom-european-court-human-rights-sajid-javid UK: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/oct/06/police-ordered-reveal-ripa-powers-identify-journalists-sources/print http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/16/hacked-off-safeguard-truly-free-press http://www.theguardian.com/law/2014/jun/13/selection-journalists-terror-trial-press-freedom worldwide: http://ioc.sagepub.com/content/43/1/188.extract