Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
-Thomas Jefferson, the third president of United States (1787)

Libertarian theory or the Free Press Theory is one of the Normative Theories of mass communication where media or press is given absolute freedom to publish anything at any time and acts as a watchdog. The theory came from the libertarian thoughts of Europe during the 16th century after the invention of printing press and after the press movement. It was advocated by many renowned personalities like Lao Tzu, John Locke, John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, etc. and is still famous in England and America.

Concepts of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

The libertarian theory is just the opposite of the Authoritarian theory of mass media where information is controlled by the state or the authorities. In libertarian theory, media is supposed to be privately owned.

The theory believes in freedom of thought and individualism. There is no control of authority and everybody has the right to voice their opinion. There is also no censorship and government must not hold any power to control and suppress media.

There is a flow of all kinds of information. All of the people are subjected to interpret and decide which information they need and the authenticity of the information. Rationality of human beings makes them able to do so. The press should not restrict any information, even criticizing the policies. Though media has enormous power, abuse of power can be dealt legally.

Major Features of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

  • There is absolute freedom to media, media plays the role of a watchdog.
  • In libertarian theory, there is freedom of thought and expression.
  • There is also freedom of information and individualism.
  • No censorship of any kind is to be done.
  • There is high competition among alternative ideas and thoughts.
  • The government does not own the media and media is a different body in the functioning of the state.
  • Media is accountable to the law of the country.
  • Media must follow a code of conduct.
  • Media encourages pluralist truths like both side of the same story.
  • The media accepts a Laissez-faire approach in which there are not many set rules that they have to follow. They can work as they want.

Example of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

Government reports of most of the countries can be found on the web nowadays. People can criticize the government policies and works through social media or any other media like newspapers. These opinions cannot be censored unless it is against the rights of an individual. Also, the person can file a law-suit if they are defamed or their privacy is compromised.
This is a complete example of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication where people and the media give comments or criticize the policies without any government interference. It also prevents the growing effect of corruption by making government as much transparent as possible and keeping people aware of their works.

Strengths of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

  • Media can give true information without any control.
  • There is no censorship.
  • All individuals can express their opinions and thoughts in the media openly. 
  • The theory encourages healthy competition among the thoughts and ideas.
  • Every work will be transparent to all.
  • It checks the government and the state authorities and also prevents corruption.
  • It functions with democracy.

Weaknesses of Libertarian Theory of Mass Communication

  • Media might not always act responsibly.
  • Individuals might not always have good intentions and ethics.
  • People can not always make rational judgments.
  • Freedom of different type of people, their ideas, opinions, school of thoughts, and group objectives can be in a conflict.
  • Media can misuse its power and harm other people’s privacy and dignity.
  • Media might defame, cause sedition, libel or slander, be immodest, publish obscenity and cause trouble.
  • Media might challenge the security of the state.