Press Freedom and Public Interest

Simon, Joel

Journalists around the world are confronting violence, repression and censorship, with the number of journalists in prison reaching record levels. For decades, the defense of global press freedom has been largely grounded in a human rights framework, linked to the individual right to freedom of expression as codified in international law. The author, the founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, and the former executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, argues that the human rights model has not delivered the necessary results. There is a need to expand the framework for press freedom defense to incorporate the notion of public interest. Linking press freedom and public interest allows for the protection of press freedom based not only on the individual right to free expression but also on the collective social benefit derived from independent journalism.

A public interest framework has the potential to unite the different sectors that are seeking to positively influence the global information space – groups engaged in free expression advocacy, the media development community, democratic governments and the tech platforms. Creating a global information system that serves the public interest is the best available articulation of their shared goals. Public interest represents a powerful social norm within journalism and is also a recognized regulatory framework often applied to media. But its meaning is contested and evolving.

While the adoption of the public interest framework will not solve the global information crisis, it will more clearly define the goal, grounding the debate and making it more productive. Journalists themselves have much to contribute to the public dialogue precisely because public interests represent such a strong normative value within the profession. The best-suited institutions to represent the interests of journalists and ensure their perspective informs the policy discussion are journalism schools at leading universities, which should expand research and education related to the concept of public interest.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
Published Here
March 9, 2023