A+ A A-

By Richard Barbrook 

Nowadays, almost everybody believes that the freedom of the media is an essential prerequisite of a modern democracy. Yet, at the same time, many people are also convinced that the media are turning democratic politics into a branch of show business. Instead of rational debate between rival ideas, contemporary politics have been trivialised into a series of soundbites and photo opportunities for couch potatoes watching the television news bulletins. 

Yet, for the Enlightenment philosophers, the struggle for media freedom was fought to create the conditions for the participation of the common people in democratic politics. In their view, citizens of a democratic republic had to decide the issues of the day amongst themselves through public debate, including in print. In the late eighteenth centuries, this participative form of media freedom was put into practice. With the help of a few assistants, revolutionary heroes such as Franklin or Marat were able to print their own publications on their own printing presses. Although the philosophers usually defended media freedom with political or moral arguments, the exercise of this fundamental right was made possible by the widespread ownership of cheap wooden printing presses.

Despite its libertarian claims, this classical liberal form of media freedom was in reality restricted to a minority of male property owners. With artisanal printing methods, only a limited number of expensive copies of any publication could be produced. However, with the industrialisation of printing, economies of scale allowed printed material to become cheap enough for almost everyone to purchase. When the new electronic media were introduced, the productivity of information production became so great that radio and television broadcasting could be paid for by subsidies from advertisers or the state and provided free to their audiences. But, although the industrialisation of the media made available prodigious quantities of information and entertainment to the public, the end of artisanal methods of production also closed off the possibility of popular participation in the media. Thus neither the direct producers nor their audiences could directly control the output of the media. Instead, its content was determined by the management hierarchies of collective institutions, such as joint stock companies, banks, political parties or the state. As a consequence, the definition of media freedom was fundamentally transformed. While still paying homage to the ideal of active citizens propagating their own thoughts, media freedom was increasingly defined as the representation of actual or supposed views of the audience. Between the Left and Right, there were bitter arguments over what was the correct form of this representation. For some, the interests of the audience were best served by the media being unbiased and truthful in its reporting. For others, the media had to serve the future interests of the people by disseminating revolutionary ideas. According to some, market competition for audiences would make the media respond to the wishes of the public. Despite their real differences, all these political positions assumed the same thing: the complete passivity of the audience. Although almost everyone could receive the output of the media, most people weren’t able to use the media to express their own views. Instead of being actors within the political process, they were only spectators of the pronouncements of professional politicians and media pundits.


Over the past twenty years, the introduction of new information technologies has intensified this centralisation of the media. For example, using satellites, media corporations are now building worldwide television news services, such as CNN or BBC’s WSTV. Although these new channels can benefit from economies of scale on a global scale, the rise of the multinational media corporations has exacerbated the growing crisis of representation within national politics. Just as the power of the world market restricts the autonomy of national democratic decision making, so the global news media can also escape from any form of influence outside the cash nexus, such as regulations for balance and objectivity. Yet the increasing productivity of the media hasn’t only created the conditions for spectacle politics on a global scale. Over the past thirty years, the spread of new technologies has also encouraged the reemergence of self produced media, such as alternative magazines, community radio stations, access cable television channels and electronic mail systems. Unlike the artisanal methods of eighteenth century printing, the modern access media are centred on collective forms of working and have the potentiality for mass distribution of their output. For example, in the cyberspace of the e mail systems, a single global network is slowly being constructed out of a network of contributors and bulletin boards which even surpasses the centralisation carried out by the most ambitious media multinationals. In recent years, the community media has become an effective source of alternative information to the soundbite politics provided by the media corporations, as during the Gulf war. Even more importantly, this form of media has also partially realised the traditional interpretation of media freedom. But, instead of being restricted to a minority of male property owners, the community media are used by all sections of society as a means of expression, including marginalised groups. According to the visionaries of community media, all citizens will be able to exercise their right to participate directly in political debates within an electronic agora. Only then will the contradictions of media freedom be finally resolved.


Richard Barbrook is a professor of politics at the Dept of Politics & IR at the University of Westminster



Photo courtesy of P0lly

Image title:  I_AM_A_TV_SET



#1 Anemonalove 2017-07-16 22:45
Hi guys! Who wants to see me live? I'm live at
HotBabesCams.com, we can chat, you can watch me live for free, my nickname
is Anemonalove , here is my pic:


Add comment

Security code

More News

Prev Next


Portobello Radio Ep 42, with Chris Sullivan & Piers Thompson: The End Is Nigh Special.


 Piping hot from the USB, the latest episode in ...

Read more


Two meetings, one voice

Two meeting…

You had to be there. North and south of the boro...

Read more


New Site

New Site

We're back ;)   Read more: New Site...

Read more


Corbyn Won Kensington Nomination

Corbyn Won …

On July 21st Jeremy Corbyn overwhelmingly won th...

Read more


Hats-off to Micky P: Portobello Live 3rd/4th May

Hats-off to…

Reflecting on the Portobello Live Festival - by ...

Read more


Portobello community stands up against plans to turn iconic area into bland shopping centre


Hundreds of protestors, including children and p...

Read more

More News 2

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Prev Next


Greferendum: an anthology


Thinking of Greece. ...

Read more


Pink Cigar video release

Pink Cigar …

 Local down’n’dirty rock’n’roll outfit Pink Ciga...

Read more


Gaz’s Rockin Blues 35th Anniversary Spectacular

Gaz’s Rocki…

Gaz’s Rockin Blues 35th Anniversary Spectacular ...

Read more


Interactive Video Art at The Dissenters Gallery Catacombs


On Saturday 4 July, 11-5pm, a chance to see the ...

Read more


"Exposed" a Solo Show by Louis-Nicholas Darbon


 Coming up Thursday- June 4th -  at the Graffik ...

Read more


Mock The Opera Protest @ Holland Park

Mock The Op…

A protest is taking place tomorrow at the Hollan...

Read more


Where next for Labour?

Where next …

 Labour’s defeat in the UK general election on M...

Read more


Artists For Nepal – local benefit gig for Nepal

Artists For…

 Thursday May 21st at the Elgin with music, film...

Read more


RED ALERT by Maximilian Wiedemann


West Bank last exhibition at the current buildin...

Read more

Local Events Calendar

<<  June 2018  >>
 Mo  Tu  We  Th  Fr  Sa  Su 

Upcoming Events

Social GK5

writers pic2

We're looking for writers! Join in! (scroll down the article)


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

I don't do …

I don't do rants. But,

...it's a rant! ...

Read more

Last Night …

Last Night I Dreamt...

"I could see the body of Kim Kardashian..." ...

Read more

Portobello …

Portobello drinkers 'harassed' by children

  From our sports correspondent Dave 'the ...

Read more

Everyone’s …

Everyone’s a F*****g DJ

by Kensal Scream  At long last! Another salvo f...

Read more

Lap dogs …

Lap dogs & devil dogs - the final solution

By Kensal Scream Time for another rant by the K...

Read more

Trains and …

Trains and  lycra pants

 By Kensal Scream That Really Grinds my Gears i...

Read more

An e-mail f…

An e-mail from Billy Connolly?

We can not be sure that  it’s his but it co...

Read more

Your Experience

Real time web analytics, Heat map tracking

Login or Sign Up