The Libertarian Media Theory

Theoretical Framework

            At the beginning of the twenty-first decade, journalism research extensively focused on the impact of digitization on journalistic culture and practices. During the early stages of the century, Discussions paid attention to the radical changes brought about by digital technologies.  However, these discussions have changed in recent years from the symptoms of the alleged crisis in journalism caused by digital technology to the changing nature of journalism as an object in the 4IR.  The fourth industrialization wave has increased the need to reassess the theories used in assessing and evaluating journalism.  This section of the study maps out the landscape in which the field of mass media and journalism has been theorized in the 4IR wave. 

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            The use of the term theories of journalism can imply that the profession is an academic discipline with a set of established theories that the research community can recognize. However, this presupposition can easily be contested and evaluated in two ways. 

  1. That journalism is a field which is characterized by a structural framework that identifies the area through manifestation, and, 
  2. That journalism is characterized by the existence of a specific academic culture that has been painted through a shared set of theories and methodologies. 

            According to the normative theories of journalism, mass media does not operate in a vacuum but instead is controlled by existing political institutions and laws. The normative theories proposed in the book “Four Theories of Press” evaluate the ideal way that media systems are owned and managed by state institutions and the public.  The theories look at how journalists ought to be and what laws to follow. 

Authoritarian Theory

Before the 4IR, there was less freedom of speech, and it was difficult for the journalism and media industry to challenge the rules and expectations of the government. Democracy was not a common thing in the ancient days, and the media, just like the public and other institutions, had to remain under the control of the government. In many states, the government had almost all if not total control over the media, including information spread and how it was spread. Undermining the political setup could have resulted in significant penalties or punishments.  There were clear limits to the freedom granted to the media, including the manner and structure by which the media reported its news. In most instances, the foreign media was subordinate to the established authority in a nation.  However, with increased access to communication through online platforms and the gradual avoidance of authoritarian leadership, the media industry was able to get more freedom, just like the public and other institutions. In the current modern world, democracy has become a common concept in society, increasing the freedom of one to express themselves and report any news without the control of the government. Moreover, with increased digitalization, it has become very complex for any institution to control how one chooses to spread news and information across the online platform. 

The Libertarian Media Theory

Also referred to as the free press theory, the libertarian theory contrasts with the authoritarian theory. The theory increasingly affirms the freedom of expression and economic operati9on of the media with little control or interruptions by the government. The theory applies in the v4IR era with increased freedom of speech and expression.  However, with increased access to information, there were fears that the public would abuse the freedom of media and journalism and start reporting wrong and false news. Therefore, the theory was modified and amended, leading to the birth of the Social Responsibility Theory. 

Social Responsibility Theory

Aforementioned the 4th IR has led to increased accessibility of information with the invention of the internet and social media platforms.  The wave has also been accompanied by increased freedom of media which can be easily abused without proper control measures. Therefore, the social responsibility theory aims to introduce and ensure that control prevents abuse of media freedom. The theory can be argued to be a combination of the authoritarian and libertarian theories as it gives room for media freedom while also introducing specific controls.  The central assumption of the theory is that there is a need for freedom of the press, however, with a certain level of responsibility which includes serving the public through self-censorship.  The social responsibility model is based because while the media can be free, it also has a social responsibility to deliver sufficient and accurate information to make informed decisions.  In many countries, regulatory bodies are designed to ensure that the existing media outlets do not abuse this freedom. 

Participatory Journalism

            The 4IR wave has been characterized by a massive transformation of the understanding of the journalism field and what it entails. One of the most features is the shift from the historically-dominant emphasis on professional values to the public-journalism movement that intends to bring about a more dialogic yet professionally convened career at the center of its normative model. Previous ideas and practices of traditional journalism have been transferred to the digital journalism wave. 

The internet has played a critical role in accelerating participatory journalism, including how news is broken out and distributed. An example is the Drudge website which delivered the 1998 Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton Scandal.  This piece of news acted as a symbol of a watershed period in the history of journalism, eroding the previous roles that were attributed to the traditional form of journalism. 

In recent years, the internet has proven to be a significant avenue for the supply and demand of news. Currently, the internet has been argued to play an instrumental role in enabling sources aside from the mainstream news to be regarded as alternative news sources. For instance, in recent news, the takeover of Isis in Kabul, Afghanistan, was primarily spread over the internet. Moreover, even mainstream media companies have also ensured that they have established their social networking platforms to keep up with the new changes in journalism.  Additionally, the voice of citizen journalists has increased in recent years, particularly during significant disasters where they capture and share information that is deemed to be newsworthy over the internet. The mainstream media then collects this shared content and shares it through its channels. 

            Mainstream media companies have in recent years realized the critical role played by the public in news gatherings as citizen journalists in the era of digital technology. According to the New York News director, ‘” Anyone with a camera is tantamount to being a reporter”. Digital technologies and increased inventions of communication technologies have led to an increasingly informed citizenry. The result has become an increased recognition that anyone can become a media creator, owner, and actor rather than the traditional passive listener. Therefore, there has been an increased listening and paying attention to the public in the digital age of journalism in the fourth wave industrial revolution.  However, there is increased concern over the quality of journalism in the age where amateurs in the journalism field are being referred to as ‘citizen journalists. Most citizen journalists lack the professionalism required to comply with existing journalism studies and standards, including accurate news and confirmation of facts. There are no standards to comply with citizen journalism, and any news could easily be regarded as a form of news. Although mainstream media outlets are increasing their efforts to engage with the public, it is essential to consider the consequences arising from this modern shift in digital journalism. 

Technological Determinism Theory

Developed by Marshal McLuhan, the theory argues that media technologies mold how human beings and society think and feel society shifts from one technological age to another.  According to the theory, technology has an enormous impact on the lives of human beings, including how they coexist with others in society.  The theory is based on the worldview assumption that digital technologies, particularly the internet, have led to the revolution of contemporary society and its structures. 

Four basic precepts characterize the theory;

  1. Communication and technology are inseparable; technology extends society, allowing human beings to reach further people through space and time. 
  2. All the technologies used in communication today are an extension of the social structure that mirrors the human body. For instance, the radio and television extend the voices of the human population when they report about issues affecting society in general. Social media also create complex patterns of interaction between individuals within the online platform. 
  3. The media can be argued to be ‘hot’ or ‘cool,’ an analogy that applies to the level of audience-user interactivity in a given medium. People can’t touch and experience’ hot’ media, making them passive members. In excellent media, the public is more engaged. 
  4. It is difficult for one to understand the medium unless it becomes less dominant and can be viewed through the lens of a new dominant medium. Only once a new medium comes to life, human beings can examine the impact and patterns of the older medium.  For instance, to understand the effects of traditional media, social media and digital technology had to be invented and become the dominating media. 

McLuhan states that the content of any new media takes the format of the medium used before it.  For instance, the film’s content is still that of narrative and dialogic playing with detailed information. Another example is that even with the invention of social media, news content still takes the previous formats. For instance, the concept of news reporting has not changed. 


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