Differences Between Libertarian & Social Responsibility Theories of the Press

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The outlook of the press is as important as what it says.
The outlook of the press is as important as what it says. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

The essential difference between libertarian and social responsibility theories in the press is that libertarians seek ‘freedom from’ something, such as the government, and social responsibility advocates seek ‘freedom for’ people. While not incompatible, the groups are seen as two opposing views in the way their media constituents operate and report news stories. The term "press" generally relates to print media such as newspapers, but also can be used to represent all news and current affairs organizations, including radio, TV and online media. Libertarians and the libertarian press believe all people should be exposed to all information and that they have the ability to decide for themselves what to believe. Social responsibility proponents and social respopnsibility press believe that the media has a duty towards the common good of a nation or community. The duty benefits the public as a whole; while libertarians believe in the endless possibilities of the freedom of the press without regard for its effects on society.

Diversity of Opinions

As part of their founding charters, social-responsibility press organizations often have a responsibility to provide a diverse range of opinions. Exceptions to this rule tend to be views of an extreme nature. Libertarian media outlets have no such responsibility. A broad range of libertarian publications and productions provide a wider range of opinions, but no outlet is likely to provide the range of a social responsibility organization's. Editors and owners are in complete control of hiring and do not have to hire writers with differing opinions. The BBC and America’s NPR are chartered to give equal time to each strand of opinion.

Funding

Both social responsibility and libertarian press outlets are essentially independent of government funding. Social responsibility organizations like the BBC owe their existence to taxes raised from the general population in the form of television licenses. This means they are more likely to enjoy financial stability. In return, they have a duty to the people who fund them, according to BBC Trustee Diane Coyle, but they are not beholden to any one person or company. Legal frameworks are often in place to protect such organizations from becoming "puppets" of the state. The libertarian press answer to their shareholders, holding companies or individual owners.

Content Quality

Libertarian media outlets need to please a core audience as well as their paymasters. Content is determined by how many new readers it attracts, how entertaining it is and how it relates to the opinions of those who fund its organizations. These benefits are often weighed against the financial cost. Social responsibility outlets have an obligation to consider the common good and have a duty to provide high-quality content such as documentaries, current affairs programs and coverage of key political events.

Media Ethics

Social responsibility outlets are governed in Britain by strict media ethics laws, which call for honorable practices, freedom from bias and equality of opportunity. These organizations' work is often overseen by an independent review board or media watchdog. National media laws in Britain and many countries also try to set forth good-practice guidelines for libertarian outlets, too. They are regulated by ombudsmen and media watchdogs who respond to complaints from readers. Libertarian outlets are free from obligations to act in an unbiased manner, but are bound by national laws on defamation, libel and using illegal methods to get a story.

Accountability and Transparency

Social responsibility media must present their inner workings to the public, reveal their accounts and provide means for the public to make complaints. Libertarian news outlets are under no such obligation; therefore, the individual publication decides whether to open itself to the public.

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