In the past decade, academic and professional debates about media accountability have spread around the globe – but have done so in a fundamentally different framework. In many Western democracies, trust in media – along with trust in politics and trust in institutions – as eroded dramatically. Fundamental shifts regarding the patterns of media use and the structure of media and revenue markets have made media and journalism more exposed to criticism from various stakeholders, and more vulnerable to the strategic influence of national and international actors. While many “Western” media professionals have reacted to these challenges to its credibility by new initiatives to demonstrate accountability and transparency, policy makers in other countries even in the “Global North” have tightened their grip on independent media and gradually weakened the concept of self-control. At the same time, an ongoing democratization in many parts of the world, along with a de-regulation of media markets, has created a growing demand for self-regulation and media accountability in countries formerly characterized by rigid press control. Claude-Jean Bertrand defined the development and current structures of accountability in journalism as “any non-State means of making media responsible towards the public.” Key aims of media accountability are “to improve the services of the media to the public; restore the prestige of media in the eyes of the population; diversely protect freedom of speech and press; obtain, for the profession, the autonomy that it needs to play its part in the expansion of democracy and the betterment of the fate of mankind.” Journalists and news outlets have a wide array of responses to professional, public, and political criticisms via press councils, ombudsmen, media criticism, and digital forms of media accountability, while online and offline media accountability instruments have distinct traditions in different media systems and journalism cultures.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Congress, with allies in the news media, created legislation that came to be known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was designed to help hold the federal executive accountable to the public. It became law in 1966. Its significance can be understood in several contexts: (1) in connection with a special relationship of journalists to the operation of the FOIA; (2) in terms of arguments that transparency in government is necessary for citizens’ informed participation in democracy and that, on the other side, there are strong democratic arguments that transparency should be limited in the pursuit of other legitimate values, some of them recognized in the language of the FOIA itself that government agencies may deny a citizen's request for information on the grounds that honoring the request could endanger national security, personal privacy, the integrity of internal government deliberations, or other significant objectives; and (3) that freedom of information law are one institution within a wider web of institutions and practices dedicated to holding government accountable. In this regard, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act can also be seen in a broad context of a cultural shift toward “openness” and a political shift toward what has been called a “monitory” model of democracy.
Laura L. Stein and Lindita Camaj
Freedom of information (FOI; also known as right to information and access to information) laws around the world establish rights and procedures around access to public information. Normative assumptions examine what’s behind FOI legislation, including rationales stemming from human and political rights frameworks, participatory democratic theory, and transparency and accountability initiatives. Although the freedom of information concept first arose as part of 18th-century enlightenment thinking, recent FOI law took shape in the mid-20th century, influenced by post–World War II human rights treaties, incentives provided by transnational organizations and funders, and individual country support for access to government information. Today, the majority of the world’s countries have FOI laws, most of which were adopted after 1990. FOI laws commonly address who can request information, who must provide information, what information is accessible, what information must be proactively disclosed, and what information is exempted from the law. FOI laws also establish procedural rules around information requests, including mandated response times for requests, appeals processes for denied requests, penalties for improperly withholding information, processes fees, and government reports on the law’s usage. Only a small percentage of people make FOI requests in most nations. Although it varies from country to country, requests from specific groups, including private individuals, commercial businesses, journalists, and nongovernmental organizations, often predominate. FOI requests may be political, professional, or personal in nature, although many FOI laws prohibit governments from asking about or evaluating the reasons for an information request. The ability of FOI laws to provide effective access to information depends on several factors. These include how the laws are written, public awareness of FOI, the cooperation and compliance of government agencies and institutions, and broader political and social conditions affecting FOI implementation and use. Scholars have measured the effects of FOI laws in both quantitative and qualitative terms. While quantitative data yield a picture of who uses FOI laws and how frequently, qualitative and anecdotal data provide ample evidence that such laws have had a positive impact on individuals’ abilities to obtain and use public information. Finally, FOI laws are necessary, but not sufficient, mechanisms for producing more accountable governments. They are unlikely to accomplish government reform on their own, but they can help expose and reform democratic deficits and push governments toward broader democratic reforms.
In the past 50 years, there has been a burgeoning literature on the role of journalism in promoting governance and supporting anti-corruption efforts. Much of this comes from the work of economists and political scientists, and there is a lot for journalism studies scholars to learn from. The three disciplines grapple with many of the same questions; including the effects of journalism on society and journalists’ role as watchdogs and scarecrows. Economists are the boldest about establishing causality between journalism and governance, arguing that a free and open press can curb corruption and promote accountability. However, this is not always borne out in practice as modern technological and political developments have threatened journalism’s business model, especially in regions without a historically robust free press. Media capture continues to be a growing problem in places where government and business interests are aligned and seek to instrumentalize the media. Further quantitative research and exploration of the impediments to the functioning of a free media will help our understanding of the contemporary problems facing journalists and how they can be solved in order to improve governance across the world. There is much more to be learned about the impact of journalism on governance and studies on this topic should not only cross disciplines but must also be decolonialized so that the field has more information on how the media contributes, or not, to governance in the Global South and in the different media systems outlined by Hallin and Mancini as well as the updated analysis of Efrat Nechushtai.
Joyce Lamerichs and Wyke Stommel
There is a need to focus on research conducted on online talk about mental health in the domains of ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis (CA), Discursive Psychology (DP), and Membership Categorization Analysis (MCA). We use the notion of “talk” in this article, as opposed to what could be considered a more common term such as “discourse,” to highlight that we approach computer-mediated discourse as inherently interactional. It is recipient designed and unfolds sequentially, responding to messages that have come before and building a context for messages that are constructed next. We will refer to the above domains that all share this view as CA(-related) approaches. A characterizing feature of interactional approaches to online mental health talk is their focus on in-depth analyses of relatively small amounts of data. With this focus at the center of their attention, they sit in the wider field of Discourse Analysis (DA), or Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA) who use language as their lens to understand human interaction. DA and CMDA research include a much wider set of both micro- and macro-analytic language-focused approaches to capture online discourse. Of all the CA(-related) work on online materials, a disproportionally large number of studies appear to deal with (mental) health talk. We aim to answer the question what the field of research on online mental health talk has yielded in terms of findings and methodologies. Centrally, CA (-related) studies of online mental health talk have aimed to grasp the actions people accomplish and the identities they invoke when they address their health concerns. Examples of actions in online mental health talk in particular are presenting oneself, describing a problem, or offering advice. Relevant questions for the above approaches that consider language-as-social-action are how these different actions are brought off and how they are received, by closely examining contributions such as e-mail and chat postings and their subsequent responses. With a focus on talk about mental health, this article will cover studies of online support groups (OSGs, also called online communities), and interaction in online counseling programs, mainly via online chat sessions. This article is organized as follows. In the historiography, we present an overview of CA(-related) work on online mental health talk. We discuss findings from studies of online support groups (OSGs) first and then move to results from studies on online counseling. The start of our historiography section, however, sets out to briefly highlight how the Internet may offer several particularly attractive features for those with mental health problems or a mental illness. After the historiography, we discuss what an interactional approach of online mental health talk looks like and focuses on. We offer examples of empirical studies to illustrate how written contributions to a forum, and e-mails or chat posts that are part of online counseling sessions are examined as interaction and which types of findings this results in. We conclude with a review of methodological issues that pertain to the field, address the most important ethical considerations that come into play when examining online mental health talk, and will lastly highlight some areas for future research.