Policy Issues Surrounding Journalism
- Philip M. NapoliPhilip M. NapoliSanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
- and Sarah StonbelySarah StonbelyResearch Director, Center for Cooperative Media, Montclair State University
The role of government policy in journalism can vary substantially across nations; as in 21st century the primary policy issues surrounding journalism have evolved as technological changes have dramatically configured—and in some cases threatened—the position of traditional journalistic institutions and given rise to new journalistic forms and organizations.
In nations such as the United States, where the commercial model of journalism production has long predominated, we have seen a pronounced expansion in recent years beyond a policy focus on how to maintain sufficient competition and diversity among the organizations that produce journalism (i.e., ownership regulation) to also include consideration of possible policy approaches to preserving and protecting traditional journalism organizations in the face of a much more challenging economic environment. Thus, policymakers have considered options such as legislation allowing commercial newspapers to convert to nonprofit status, as well as engaging in more rigorous governmental assessment of the functioning of local journalism ecosystems and the ways in which news consumers’ critical information needs are being met. In this latter case, the question of what, if any, policy responses may emerge from such investigations has remained unclear and a source of significant controversy.
In nations with a stronger tradition of non-commercial, publicly supported journalism (the focus here is primarily on western Europe), key 21st-century policy issues have included media freedom and pluralism, with particular emphases and mechanisms for protecting journalists and for ensuring ownership transparency and diversity. There have also been comprehensive reassessments of the structure and functioning of public service media in order to ensure that these institutions are effectively evolving in response to the changing media environment in ways that maximize their ability to serve media users’ information needs.
Issues of journalism ethics and performance have found their way into the policy agenda as well. This has most notably been the case in the United Kingdom, where revelations of illegal mobile phone hacking by British tabloid journalists led to a formal government inquiry (the Leveson Inquiry) and recommendations for the creation of a new, independent governance structure with significant sanctioning and dispute arbitration authority.
An important concern that is only now beginning to emerge (particularly in Europe), one that may ultimately take form as a dominant journalism policy issue, involves the question of the increasingly influential role that digital intermediaries (social media platforms, search engines, mobile applications) play in the process via which journalism reaches news consumers. Here, the emerging concern is whether some more formal and authoritative governance structures are necessary to ensure that these intermediaries have positive rather than negative effects on the flow of news and information within communities.