Networked Press Freedom: Creating Infrastructures for a Public Right to Hear

Media and Content, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Artificial Intelligence

Article Snapshot


Mike Ananny


MIT Press, 2018


Freedom of the press is defined mainly as journalistic freedom from constraints. Freedom of the press should be reconceived to include positive rights, such as the right of the public to hear.

Policy Relevance

Public intervention should ensure that the press serves public needs.

Main Points

  • Traditionally, freedom of the press is defined as journalists’ freedom to write and publish, recognized by courts in recent decades; press freedom should be reconceived as a complex product of the technologies, institutions, and normative standards of any era.
  • The value of free speech consists in its capacity to sustain democracy, achieving public goals; the two essential elements of free speech are:
    • The individual’s right to speak.
    • The public’s right to hear.
  • The press is not a single, stable entity, but a product of multiple factors; press freedom should be redefined as any situation that supports a press and public that we want to defend.
  • The press is increasingly intertwined with computational infrastructure actors such as software engineers, digital platforms, and data-driven news sites.
  • The networked press reflects institutional autonomy in multiple ways, including:
    • Observation of people and events.
    • Production of news.
    • Labor, that is, the management of the press workforce.
    • Audience, that is, controlling the participation of news consumers.
    • Revenue generation, that is, commodifying and monetizing information.
  • People and machines have come together without considering the kind of press the public needs.
    • Paywalls shut out those who do not pay.
    • Social media delivers news quickly but without fact checking or respect for privacy.
    • Data-driven news is affected by editorial and commercial concerns.
  • Public intervention to shape the networked press could support new forms of normatively valuable journalism; negative freedom from and affirmative capacity to should be balanced.
  • Current debates relating to freedom of the press include:
    • Whether parts of the press should be automated.
    • The obligations of social media to the democratic process.
    • How news organizations will resist pressure from advertisers and platforms.
  • Today’s networked press should redefine itself as a public institution; journalists should be concerned with the public’s right to hear as well as the individual’s right to speak.

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