The ability to access and pass information to other people without being limited by government policies and forces constitute the fundamental elements of freedom of speech and press. It refers to the liberty given to people in speaking openly as a way to express their opinions, knowledge, and share information with other members of the society. This freedom has not been a guarantee in the past and varied from one country to the other. Through media activism and development of policies in individual countries’ constitutions, the world has gradually experienced tremendous increase in the freedom of speech and press. The First Amendment in the US Constitution, for instance, is what has guaranteed this right by giving people the liberty to speak openly without the fear of government restraint. Technological advancements have further given people more freedom of expressions in the modern society. In fact, the internet has brought a paradigm shift from traditional forms of information transfer such as newspapers, radio, and television. This has raised a lot of concern among various institutions such as government and media policy makers about the extreme levels in the freedom of expression today. The question that most analysts and governments are asking is whether there is too much freedom of speech and press in the 21st Century.
Media is considered as the most powerful tool in the modern society. It allows people to effectively access and efficiently share knowledge and information. This is what has given it the power to convert day into night and night into day, make a hero from a villain or hero into a villain. This is the power that has allowed it to revolutionize the world in the 21st century. Geographical barriers have virtually been erased and the world transformed into a mere global village, especially following the invention of the internet (Trager & Donna 17). Diverse socio-economic and political barriers have equally been removed through the impact of media in the modern world. Economic growth, political stability,. and social integration of any society or country is largely dependent on the freedom it has given its people to freely express themselves. This incorporates being allowed to think, say, and write anything or act without any pressures or restrictions. Democracy and freedom of expression are the two elements that can be considered to share the same essence. While democracy is considered as governing people by the people for the people, media freedom is the voice of the people. Education to the masses through media has eliminated their ignorance and ensured that enlightenment as well as awareness is created among them (Trager & Donna 19).
Despite these numerous benefits associated with the freedom of speech and press, too much of the freedom has occasionally been misused. The internet in particular has regularly been pointed out as the main form of media through which the freedom of expression is constantly abused. The web has opened up all the other forms of media. It has allowed anyone with access to it from anywhere at any time to freely express themselves. This has empowered even those who were previously considered voiceless and powerless by giving them an opportunity and platform to express their thoughts and ideas (Trager & Donna 28). However, misuse comes in when some individuals fail to use this platform for the benefits of the rest of the society in general. This includes sharing materials on the web that are considered illegal or contravene social norms. Others send information that is meant to insult or abuse their counterparts, create social and political division or negative incitement, and threaten social and national security among spreading other vices. While such cases are rare in the traditional forms of media due to professional code of ethics observed by journalists, there are limited regulations on who can access or share information via the internet. Even the most powerful governments across the world such as the US have had limited control to press freedom on the internet where materials such as Wikileaks have caused mixed reactions and raised a number of concerns.
These issues are very important in relation to the development of media policy. The benefits associated with media provide policy makers with solid reasons for why they should ensure their policies allow media freedom to be exercised by everyone. These policies must not limit people or restrict them from thinking, writing, speaking, and acting towards expressing issues that positively impact the society (Trager & Donna 56). Fundamental considerations in the development of media policy should revolve around ensuring that the media are used to create awareness, enlighten the people, and eliminate ignorance among the masses. These are the major aspects through which the media revolutionize the world for the benefits of the society. On the other hand, misuse of the media in the name of freedom of expression is an important issue that media policy makers must focus on. Despite the policies allowing people to freely express themselves through thinking, writing, speaking and acting, there should be some levels of regulations or code of conduct. This would ensure that media freedom is not abused through insulting others, threatening social and national wellbeing and security, as well as spreading other vices.
Too much freedom of expression in the 21st century, especially with the introduction of the internet, is what has allowed some people to misuse it. Media policies must regulate the kind of information that can be accessed or shared through the internet to ensure that media freedom does not conflict with other sections of the constitution or deny others their rights.
Trager, Robert, and Donna L. Dickerson. Freedom of Expression in the 21st Century. SAGE Publications, 1999.