Classical Liberal Theory

The liberal theory of the press states that the history for freedom of expression focuses upon the publication of ideas antagonistic to the traditional religious, political and economic order.

The theory address’ the freedom of the individual and puts impetus on providing knowledge to those on a singular basis. Through this, dominant power is shifted from government to individuals.

Enlightenment figure Adam Smith calls this ‘the invisible hand’ whereby there are social benefits resulting from the individual pursuit of knowledge and practice.

The theory dates back to between 1650 and 1800. At this time there was a rise of the bourgeois classes and medievalism was beginning to dwindle. There was a realisation that the people where rational and forward thinking. Because of this, the circulation of current events increased to match the interest of the people who where for the first time demanding an intimate knowledge of what was going on in their society. This new awareness meant that the power to hold the state to account was now in the hands of the press.

However, true unbiased news relay could only be guaranteed if there was no interference from any government or royal state. In Stephen J. A. Wards’ ‘Ethics and the Media: An Introduction’, Ward states that,

“For liberal theory, journalists should constitute an independent press that informs citizens and acts as a watchdog on government and abuses of power.”

For these reasons it was John Wilkes who finally took the parliamentary bull by the horns in 1762 and won three freedoms for the people. The effect of this meant that the public now had the right to report on parliament, criticise it’s actions and democratically elect new MPs by way of public vote. With these new freedoms there arises the question of whether the press can ever be completely independent. To an extent it could be said the that output of any corporation is immediately undermined by the control that the owners and partners possess.