Monday, February 15, 2010

Press Freeedom

by Sara Klausing

Peter J. Humphreys’ Press freedom: the free market and the development of the modern press is a significant source for press freedom has flourished in Europe. Beginning with the invention of the printing press, he traces this expansion from a historical and academic outlook. When European press first began, as Humphreys explains, the state and church were prominent media influencers. Worried about the free flow of information, the entities consequently developed controlled censorship and licensing systems for printed materials.

In the article, press freedom is referred to as the abolition of forced censorship and the permission to oppose the established. In Humphreys’ words, “whether won by revolution or not, press freedom was very much a product of the pre-democratic elites and the rise to social and political power in their stead of the ‘bourgeois’ or liberal capitalist middle classes in the ‘early industrial age’” (Humphreys18). This free press brought with it a heightening sense of social responsibility and introduced a new journalistic class. They were now “dedicated to the supply of objective factual information and were no longer the servants of officialdom that they once were” (35). Humphreys also presents the notion that the press became increasingly powerful in the political realm. Media often found themselves aligned with left or right winged parties and were used to directly influence the ideologies of their audiences.

Humphreys continues by explaining the transformation of media after WWI and WWII. He mentions that industrialization and capitalist ideals post WWI lead to the commercialization of European press. Humphreys attests that “from the start, the press sector was highly dependent upon the rapidly growing commercial giants, whose clear priority was the supply of financial and commercial information” (30). He is essentially saying that overtly political press also declined after WWII as papers became highly dependent on the more successful, commercial revenue.

Press freedom concludes with an analysis of post 1980s “information revolution. In this period, new technologies and satellite transmission heightened, this multiplying the demand for media. As information became increasingly accessible, European agents became extremely competitive on a national and global scale. Humphreys suggests that the transition to an international market resulted in a “key link between media and big businesses in a liberal capitalist international order” (35). Although stronger in northern and weaker in southern Europe, the process of globalization continues to play an imperative role in the modern press.

UNESCO's press freedom initiative

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