Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Speech Deposit: Systematic Approach to Free Speech and Responsibility

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Speech Deposit: Systematic Approach to Free Speech and Responsibility

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The most dramatic change of the world in the last decade is the spread of internet technology. Owing to this technological progress the amount of information people can access has increased dramatically. Before the surge of the internet technology, people have been dependent on the media such as newspapers, TV, radio, or books, which are all run by professional journalists. In the internet age anyone can be a journalist or an editor who gives opinions on social issues to the public. Indeed there are many internet journalists or bloggers who obtain thousands of accesses per day.

Though variety of information sources has increased, it does not necessarily mean that people can obtain surer knowledge on controversial issues. On the contrary, people tend to be more confused because they have no clues to decide which information source is reliable and which is not. Thus people can be more dismayed and uncertain as they are given wider options of information sources.

The increase of uncertainty, of course, is not only because of the increase of information. Even before the rise of the internet, the traditional media have sometimes made mistakes and people have not always believed all the information given by the newspapers or TV. When we consider the problem of uncertainty, it should be noted that we live in the age of increased complexity, as well as increased information.

Let us give you an example. In modern society almost all safety issues are related to some kind of new science and technology. This fact can be reconfirmed when we consider major safety topics which are currently at issue: nuclear power plant, avian influenza, toxic pesticides, BSE, global warming, etc. In each area there are many experts to assess the risks of these issues. The source of risk, however, is often so complicated that the results of risk assessment vary among the experts. In the academic community researchers have tried hard to obtain surer knowledge and criteria to measure the probability and the size of possible risks. Instead of the hard work by the researchers to reach agreement on objective risk assessment, there still exist many issues where experts conflict on the evaluation of risks. The main reason for this difficulty is that modern science and technology deals with the problems which cannot be measured for sure for a long period of time. For example, safety of nuclear power plants or side-effects of the long-term use of new medicine cannot be confirmed for sure soon. We need to accumulate data to predict their safety with high confidence. As for the environmental issues, whether carbon dioxide is the main cause of warmer climates is still a matter of debate though it has been long since this hypothesis was first introduced to the public [1].

Basically these uncertainties are the matters of imperfection of knowledge. Indeed, risk information given by experts or journalists almost always includes some uncertainty and often turns out to be wrong, though it always has certain facts or logic to support the idea. The problems, however, are not always that simple. Experts and journalists sometimes publish distorted information intentionally for their personal benefits. Forefront science and technology usually include difficult theories which cannot be easily understood by ordinary people. Not only many journalists, but also some experts misuse the asymmetry of information to attain their commercial success or political goals by predicting that things less probable can happen with high probabilities.

Since the issues of safety and the environment are complicated and it takes a long period of time to prove which theory is right, predictions on these issues are often forgotten when they are settled even if they obtained great attention of the public when they were first published. Even when people remember their fabrications because of the great damage it has given to the society, people usually do not have any means to punish them. …

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