Regulating the Global Information Society

By Christopher T. Marsden | Go to book overview

16

Pluralism, guidance and the new media

Thomas Gibbons

There is a sentiment being consolidated in discussion of new forms of media that the removal of problems that bottlenecks pose for media pluralism will satisfy democratic concerns about the function of the media. Elimination of bottlenecks, it is said, will provide an environment where such pluralism can flourish and thereby ensure that a wide range of materials can be made available to audiences and readerships. In this chapter, I will argue that, on the contrary if the democratic potential of the media-or, indeed, communications more generally-is really valued, then the creation or preservation of some kinds of bottlenecks will be essential. That is because the securing of media pluralism is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for realising such democratic potential. The constriction in the flow of information that 'bottleneck' implies is not itself the issue. Rather, it is the uses to which the constriction may be put that raise the significant questions for regulatory design. Furthermore, the fact that these issues have generally been explored in relation to the more traditional mass media does not make them less relevant in the developing global information setting.


Democracy and the media

The democratic potential of the media has had a significant influence on media regulation policy. One of the more powerful justifications for giving special protection to freedom of speech is that it enables electorates to discuss governments' policies and actions and render them accountable, by providing the greatest opportunity for differing points of view to be aired and by encouraging sufficient information to be available for making policy choices. From the speaker's perspective, the media can provide platforms for communicating points of view more effectively to a large readership or audience and they can also offer opportunities for direct dialogue with other speakers. Since access to the media is relatively limited, however, it is principally the audience (for present purposes, including readerships) that appreciates their democratic value (Barendt 1985:23-6). In a direct way, the media provide an information resource and they provide a means of accessing speakers' messages and policy discussion. More indirectly, the media may choose to adopt a 'watchdog' role in which they act on

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