Does Information Want to be Free?

In Western society, we all sing the praises of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I got a heavy dose of that while studying Media Law in Copenhagen in the context of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and have come to appreciate the significance of such freedoms. It is unsurprising, for example, that high rankings for press freedom for a country correlates strongly with that society’s well-being, development and lack of corruption. Think Finland (1), Sweden (4) and Norway (5) compared with Russia (140), Saudi Arabia (157) and North Korea (177) (lol).

Many of us (me included) take the making of newspapers for granted. I mean, I will have a rant every now and then about News Corp and its insidious takeover of Australian media or something like that. Here is an article that raises really interesting points that we don’t consider very often, written by the always-insightful Ezra Klein of Washington Post fame.

Ezra raises a perhaps uncomfortable truth, that the newspapers’ very existence depends on advertising. Advertising dollars are their lifeblood. Why is that uncomfortable? Let’s put it this way: society’s key vehicle for (sometimes? mostly?) impartial, objective, truth-seeking is dependent on the shallow, self-interested, subjective world of advertising.

Or have I put it too crudely? One of my insights that I would like to impart on this blog is that nothing is ever black and white. Invariably the truth is somewhere in the middle. Newspapers are not the bastions of unbiased reporting they make themselves out to be (sorry to break it you, you ignorant sucker). And, as I begrudgingly accept, advertisers aren’t the villains I pretend they are either. Ezra puts it really well:

Technology optimists like to say that “information wants to be free.” Perhaps the truer way to put it is that consumers want information to be free.

How do I feel about advertisers’ (indirect) grip on information, especially in an age when print media is dying a slow death and the tattered remnants of journalistic integrity is being scattered across the diffuse reaches of the internet and blogosphere? Uncomfortable.


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