Challenging the business paradigm in the interests of media freedom
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They might be mortal enemies in day to day corporate warfare, but there is one single issue where media outlets stand united. The defence of media freedom. All it takes is the whiff of regulation in the air – an aside by a politician, or a committee’s recommendation for a limit on media powers – and we hear the screams from the leader pages.
It is a cry which has been articulated in a variety of ways for more than 300 years. Yet blind defence of any historic principle can be perilous – particularly in an era of change when so many traditions are being revisited and sometimes abandoned. Hollow rhetoric will not preserve media freedom into the longer term. A true defence for the modern era needs to be grounded on plausible foundations which apply to the dynamics of modern society.
Threats to press freedom in modern society abound throughout the Asia Pacific region. Government interference over the reporting of the second Gulf War and the SARS outbreak in some Asian countries, banning of publications and the use of sedition laws against journalists in some small Pacific Island states, late night legislative changes to defamation in New Zealand, and proposals for the broadcast regulator to patrol print newsrooms under cross media law changes in Australia. In this article, I look briefly at the historical foundations of media freedom, identify some of the threats it faces today, and propose some mechanisms for breaking through the rhetoric to help it serve the mission for which it was proposed.