A Free Press Doesn't Mean Free Newspapers

Editor of the Irish Times, Geraldine Kennedy, thinks the Internet poses an existential threat to the freedom of the press because it jeopardizes newspapers’ solvency. Kennedy’s remark comes at a time when many are beginning to realize that free information and a free press make bad bedfellows.

Related to the media’s financial crisis is its crisis of credibility. Many do not see major news producers as the enlightened authority they once were. Private as well as government public-relations machines see the media as their own territory—an extension of their own PR campaigns rather than a neutral body acting in the public interest.

It is difficult to criticize the public’s lack of faith in major news producers when, partly as a result of an infinitely shortening news cycle, the media so often report information given to them by an official source, typically in the guise of a press release, as the story itself.

I have seen newsrooms growing littered with press releases while reporters type furiously to post stories early and often—rather than drafting their own narrative of events—in accordance with the public craving for instant news.

The media’s failure to hold authorities accountable during the run-up to the Iraq War must be one of the most staggering failures of the much-idealized free press. Facts the media didn’t get to at the time are coming out in the UK’s official inquiry into the Iraq War. (A free Iraqi press seems very much in question, by the way.)

Various solutions to the ongoing newspaper crisis, which has seen many regional papers go under and many national ones hemorrhage money, are being floated. However, it seems there is less focus on narrowing the credibility gap.

In recognition of the tension between profit and public interest, numerous non-profit ventures have been proposed as a means of resuscitating the news industry. From government-subsidized reporting to NGO-funded news production, more strings are being attached to a once-free press.

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