The right to know and journalism in a digital age

ICTs have substantially changed the media landscape, and information flows in general. For governments, ICTs offer a means to enable freedom of information, for example by disclosing information and managing individual information requests through E-governance.

ICTs also entail the risk of further marginalizing those who lack access to technology or technical skills. They therefore underline the need to bridge the digital and knowledge divide, to ensure that they do not increase inequality but instead foster empowerment and citizen participation, social and human development, transparency and accountability, along with government effectiveness. ICTs have also notably increased governments’ surveillance power, raising new concerns over the difficulty of guaranteeing protection of journalists’ confidential sources, as well as for gathering and handling personal information. 

Much debate has been generated around ICTs’ impact on the shape and dynamics of the media environment. To begin with, they carry the potential of reaching more people, informing them, promoting and channelling their participation. Moreover, ICTs may facilitate the coverage of a wider range of topics, the representation of a broader diversity of views, an unprecedented level of engagement by ordinary people in news production and innovative forms of interaction between them and the media, as well as enhanced transparency and accountability. Despite these newly opened possibilities, some views focus on the threats posed by the advance of ICTs and new media, the most pessimistic even referring to journalism approaching its end. In this regard, among other often cited issues are for instance the break-down of traditional business models, the diminishing advertising revenues and increasing economic pressures, as well as concerns related to information overload and poorer accuracy, professionalism and quality in reporting. 

Food for Thought:

  • How can the digital and knowledge divide be addressed, to ensure that ICTs facilitate freedom of information and its benefits in terms of empowerment, transparency and public accountability?
  • Do the opportunities that ICTs represent for the press outweigh the threats? How can the media take advantage of the former and respond to the latter?
  • How can the protection of journalists’ sources be ensured in today’s world, against the backdrop of the growing surveillance facilitated by ICTs?
  • How can the need for government transparency and openness be properly balanced with the protection of information?
  • What opportunities and risks do ICTs represent for the protection of the right to privacy?
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