In the digital age, the Internet has become a major source of news as individuals’ use of and reliance on online information has grown. Although digital technology provides more channels and opportunities for information dissemination, Authoritarian regimes regularly try to censor or control the online news’s provision of vision and information (2006, p5). As a consequence, the filtering of information in online news is no longer independent, and the news produced is not designed to reveal the truth, but rather to defend the interests and image of the privileged class.
The freedom and diversity of the press are constrained by these powers, especially from the political and commercial spheres. Responsible censorship plays an indispensable role at this point by ensuring that news practitioners follow ethical standards and helping to promote the self-regulation of journalism. Therefore, this essay, in support of previous scholar Hardy Jonathan’s argument, that the overriding function of communication and media systems is to promote normative beliefs about democratic discourse and participation (2014). Thus, I raise a question worth exploring: Why is the balance between press freedom and responsible vetting critical in the online news space?
Stakeholders in online news
1. Political control
Since ideology, interests, and institutions are the basis of everything in the Internet society. The government as a major stakeholder in online news will ensure that it operates in a way that satisfies the political sovereignty of the state. However, according to O’Hara & Hall (2018), some governments want to intervene in the media in areas related to political discussion, Holocaust denial, or blasphemy (p. 10).This is dominated by a Dystopian system of Internet and public opinion monitoring led by China.
This system aims to promote a national development model through journalism and create “socialist journalism with Chinese characteristics” (Shahbaz, 2018). This control leads to opaque information on many issues, and reporting appears to the public in a way that is not objective and limited. As a result, the public becomes the recipients of information, and their ideas and opinions are often ignored.
In addition, the primary aim of broadcasters, as purveyors of news, is to ensure that the news is truthful. This is not a legal but a moral constraint. Therefore, when the government’s wishes go against the communication guidelines of the broadcasters to disseminate news, the journalists will face judgment from an ethical point of view. For example, in 2021 Polish journalist Mariusz Kowalewski was forced to use a drone to follow a critic of the country’s ruling party, finally Kowalewski resigned from his job as a journalist. Controlling news and public opinion from the government’s point of view maintains social stability, but this move comes at the expense of the public voice and the people. Therefore, to make the press more free, it is necessary to pay attention to the control of the political aspect of the country.
In contrast to government surveillance, online news is currently facing a trend of commercialization. News is controlled by technology companies that prioritize their commercial interests over the public interest, and news is operated in a way that earns revenue (Popiel, 2018). When the internet presents both advertisements and news with mixed content, the immediate effect of this behavior is to reduce the perception of news. In an experiment on the effect of advertising campaigns on the perception of news, it was noted that advertisements may cause serious news to be portrayed inappropriately, especially boring and trivial advertisements, which are perceived more negatively (Hang & Oliver, 2004, p. 744). Not only will viewers not be able to capture the information correctly, but publishers will also be under more pressure in which they will not be able to create a higher value for these advertisements. In the long run, some news organizations may neglect the quality of news and focus on the number of clicks and viewers. This could lead to news events being trivialized and replaced with attention-grabbing entertainment content.
More importantly, most online advertising is monopolized by tech companies, Gannett as the largest publisher in the US sued Google earlier this year for its advertising monopoly. Interestingly, in 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Google for the same reason. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that due to Google’s dominance, “publishers make less and advertisers pay more” (Aljazeera, 2023).
Publishers may be under financial pressure as large tech companies capture a major share of advertising revenue. Publishing companies and journalists can only share a limited amount of advertising revenue, which will undoubtedly affect the quality of the news they report, and the authenticity of the news is once again diminished.
Fighting for Freedom
In today’s Internet environment, where rapid change and multiple interests are intertwined, the content delivered by the news is becoming less and less truthful, and expectations about democracy are gradually turning into extravagant hopes. Online news platforms, as one of the most important ways to disseminate news globally, should take up their responsibilities. Although traffic and click-through rates carry a lot of weight on online platforms in this day and age, the primary goal is to reclaim the freedom of the news in this fast-paced environment.
1. Self-regulation by publishers
In the long run, to avoid potentially intrusive government controls, publishers should preemptively implement self-regulation. ” Self-regulation ranges from self-monitoring for regulatory violations to proactive “corporate social responsibility ” (Cusumano et, al., 2019) As news organizations, they should put the interests of the public and the industry as a whole above their short-term interests when employing self-regulation strategies. The same applies to the selection of advertisements. When selecting advertisements, care should be taken to screen them and try to place them in a different section from serious content to ensure that readers are aware of the main content of the news.
2. Government regulation
Strong and disciplined regulation is essential to maintain the stability of the industry as a whole and even the country. This requires the government to step in to mediate and moderate the monopolization of platforms which would include the monopolization of advertising by internet companies. Such regulation at the national level requires the government to put in place clear systems with continuous monitoring and enforcement to ensure that platforms comply with these standards (Brathwaite, 2019).
For example, in Australia, the Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called for the establishment of an independent platform regulator to recognize and regulate social platforms as media enterprises by creating a regulatory framework (Martin & Tim, 2019, p. 140). This step helps online news sites comply with the issues of content regulation and user privacy terms and makes them make commitments on how to achieve press freedom and diversity. However, while regulating, the government should avoid excessive involvement in the alteration of news content to ensure the authenticity of the news. Although this idea is a bit far to implement in some countries, there is no doubt that both the State and news organizations should always keep the public interest at the forefront and ensure that citizens have a voice.
To summarize, Internet journalism today presents a lack of diversity and freedom. The main reason for this is the over-involvement of rights organizations from politics and business in the creation and publication of news. Now let me answer the question I mentioned at the beginning of the article, how can a balance be struck between journalistic freedom and responsible auditing in the field of online journalism? As a news publisher, it needs to be proactive in self-regulation. By keeping the ethical code of journalism in mind and making freedom of the press a primary goal in writing and publishing in-depth news. When it comes to advertisements, publishers need to ensure that viewers can capture the content of the news and that advertisements are placed selectively. On a national level, the government needs to continually regulate the news industry, but not allow politics to infiltrate the content too much. Overall, the public interest and voice should be emphasized by news organizations or the state.
Aljazeera (2023.6.20). US news chain Gannett sues Google, alleges online ad monopoly: Google’s control over tools for buying and selling online ads forces publishers to sell more cheap ad space, Gannett says.Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2023/6/20/us-news-chain-gannett-sues-google-alleges-online-ad-monopoly
Aljazeera (2023.1.24). US says Google ‘unlawfully’ dominates ad industry in lawsuit: US Justice Department says tech giant uses ‘anticompetitive, exclusionary and unlawful means’ to eliminate competition.Aljazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/24/us-says-google-unlawfully-dominates-ad-industry-in-lawsuit
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