Role of Media in Liberal Democracies

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The purpose of this report is to consider the role of media in liberal democracies of the 21st century and to analyse if the ownership of media affects this role. Media can widely be defined as any media of communication. This report will focus more on the news aspect of media rather than the entertainment side. In considering the role of media, I will examine multiple arguments of the role. The media ownership will be taken from examples in Australia, United States and Britain. This report will firstly look at the role of the media and then analyse the effect of ownership on the role.

The fundamental principle of liberal democracies is an emphasis on the freedom of individuals rather than social goals such as equality (Ryan, Parker and Brown 2003, 66). This implies principles of freedom of speech and assembly and the right to privacy. Cowan (2002, 94) argues that the presence of free media has traditionally been regarded as essential principle for the existence of a liberal democracy. Jackson and Stanfield (2004, 476) agree, stating that “A free and independent press is one of democracy’s most important institutions”.

The role of media in liberal democracies has been the greatly debated with a wide range of roles being hypothesised. Multiple authors have proposed that media is the ‘fourth estate’ of politics and the link that informs the public of political issues (Cowan 2002, 94). The principle of the fourth estate is that the media is completely independent of all institutions and, therefore, can report in an objective and unbiased manner (Carey 1993, 13).

America’s Office of Democracy and Governance (1999, 5) proposes two key objectives for media in democratic societies: i)To ensure citizens have the ability to make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation ii)To scrutinise and evaluate the actions of elected representatives to ensure they uphold...
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