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Media Content Regulation in the 21st Century Report


Media regulation by the government was a pertinent issue in the 20th century. Various governments regulated media content for various reasons. In particular, decency, ‘bad language’ and the impact of media content on political processes were the main reasons for media regulation (Hoffman-Riem 1996, p. 57). Despite the significant expansion of democratic space across the world, some countries still regulate media content in the contemporary world. While media regulation was a central issue in the 20th century, it is almost impossible to regulate media in the 21st century. This is despite the fact that media regulation remains rife in many countries, especially in the Middle East and Asia. This report articulates that it is almost impossible to regulate the media in the modern world. The paper will highlight various reasons provided by various governments on media regulation. Have these reasons changed to accommodate modern perspectives? This paper will provide illustrations that entrench the assertion that it is almost impossible to regulate media in the contemporary world.

Background of Media Regulation

It is important to point out that media refers to a public means of communication in the context of this paper. It includes radio, television, newspapers, magazines and most importantly, the internet. In the contemporary world, the internet has become a mass medium owing to the growing interconnectedness and the effects of globalization. On the other hand, media regulation involves guidance and procedures imposed by the government to control the manner in which the media collects, disseminates and broadcast information. In fact, media regulation is a way of intervening on various occurrences, usually due to public interest. According to Betrand (2003, p. 78), media regulation takes different forms and shapes. While procedures and controls given by the government amount to external regulation of the media, internal regulation refers to self-regulation by the media due to ethics and moral standpoints. This is during the process of gathering and broadcasting information (Hoffman-Riem 1996, p.78).

Since the 19th century, central governments have played the role of regulating the media (Nelson 2005, p. 67). However, control has reduced significantly across the world due to diverse factors. From the stringent restrictions and rules imposed on the media during the Second World War to a more liberal media at the end of the 20th century, it is noticeable that regulations have reduced considerably (Hamon 2011, p. 129). In addition, the rise of democracy in many parts of the world has also enhanced the ability of the media to overcome various restrictions imposed by the central government. In fact, many democratic nations across the world uphold the freedom of expression and speech as some of the fundamental human rights (Nelson 2005, p. 86). As such, they have reduced the restrictions imposed on the media in order to ensure that the public enjoys the right to information. Unlike in the previous century, media institution has also been able to ensure that it abides by ethics when playing its role in society. Hence, there has been a rise in internal regulations across many media organizations across the world. This implies that the central government does no longer play a guidance role in the programming and gathering of information. To this end, it is important to reinstate the thesis statement that media regulation will not typify the 21st century, as it was the case in the 20th century. Various explicit factors make media regulation almost impossible in the contemporary world.

Media Regulation Is Impossible in the 21st Century

The Internet

According to Castells (2001, p. 87), media institution is dynamic like any other social institution. As such, the procedures, guidance and controls that typify the media ought to change accordingly. While many analysts argue that the functions of the central government include media regulation in the best interest of the public, others point out that media regulation will not last long owing to various factors especially in the modern world (Castells 2001, p. 88). At the outset, it is critical to point out the growth of unconventional mass mediums. In particular, the growth of the internet owing to the continued interconnectedness has allowed free sharing of information across the world. The use of emails, video conferencing facilities, social networking sites has all worked against media control across the world. Feintuck (1999, p. 56) says that the growth of the internet has diminished the role of the central government in a considerable way. In other words, he says that the internet is almost an untamed mass medium that crosscuts across all cultural and economic divides.

The modern media organizations have migrated onto the internet. In other words, this has made some traditional media regulations that acted on print and electronic media to become extinct. Initially, such media as the electronic press suffered from media regulation that aimed at regulating the frequencies to avoid congestion. (Picard 1985, p. 139). In the modern world, many media companies have shifted from electronic broadcasts to the internet, where there is no congestion and no frequency allocation. This has ensured that traditional media upon which media regulations acted on have reduced significantly. The internet platform has, in essence, eradicated many regulations and controls that typified the media institution. Additionally, the internet has major economic incentives that would allow us to presuppose that almost all media companies will migrate to the internet. Hamon (2011, p. 129) says that the internet is cheap, free and accessible to many people. Besides, the internet allows different companies to customize information to suit a specific clientele. This has not only brought down the operational costs by various companies but has also increased the profit margins for the media companies. To that end, the internet promises to provide media companies with a larger audience than the traditional media. When many companies join the internet platform, it is almost impossible to apply the same media regulations that typified traditional media.

Another aspect of the internet that has made media regulation impossible is the rise of social media. Unlike in the 20th century, the modern context is typical of social media. Social media provide users with a platform for chatting and expressing specific perspectives and opinions. Users converge in a specific website where they share, gather and impart information on each other without the fear of government intervention and regulation. According to Lunt & Livingstone (2011, p. 64), social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have become an important aspect of the internet to the extent that the media institutions have used them to gain a larger customer base. Further, social networking sites are personal, and as such, it is impossible to regulate such media without violating the people’s right to privacy. It is, therefore, not surprising that social media has flourished in regions and countries where media regulation is more of a norm than an exception (Cuilenburg & McQuail 2003, p. 69). For instance, during the Arab Spring, social media was very instrumental in organizing protests and sharing available information regarding the uprisings. In Libya particularly, the mainstream media had been regulated in such a way that the protesters did not get the actual and real information on the political situation in the country. However, social media played the supporting role of ensuring that the citizens could still express themselves without fear of victimization. As such, the internet played a significant role in ensuring that people enjoyed their rights of expression and speech, notwithstanding the repressive media regulations that were apparent in the country.

Given the above attributes of the internet, it is worth mentioning that the internet is growing in an unprecedented way across the world. The growth of the internet has been the fastest in the past five years (Hamon 2011, p. 131). This implies that media regulation will continue to be a peripheral aspect of the mainstream media. Even in the most marginalized countries, especially in the global south, internet connectivity and penetration have been impressive. This insinuates that the internet has not only reduced media regulation across the world but also continue to reduce the influence of the regulators on mass media (Salvaggio 1985, p. 438). To this end, the growth of the internet as a mass medium has hinted that media regulation will not be possible in the 21st century.

Process of Globalization and Democratization

Media regulation has no place in the 21st century owing to the convergence of ideas, opinions, cultures and social institutions. Particularly, the process of globalization has seen various countries, societies and communities sharing the same goals and objectives. The rationale is that the process aims at ensuring that the world has a uniform culture and social norms. In particular, the West has ensured that its dominant cultures and languages are adopted by other societies across the world. In particular, the principles of democracy in governance and political processes have typified many countries across the world (Bertrand 2003, p. 59). This implies that governance of any country is dependent on democratic principles and enshrinement of fundamental human rights. To this end, many countries have reduced media regulation and ensured that they enshrine freedom of speech and expression. Besides, many countries have appreciated that the citizens have the right to information and have softened their stand of the regulation (Hallin & Mancini 2004, p. 67). This has ensured that every person has a right to information but also enjoys the freedom of speech and expression.

The process of democratization has also enhanced the growth of vibrant civil societies in many parts of the world. Civil society organizations ensure that the government does not erect regulations that undermine the basic and fundamental rights of individuals (Bertrand 2003, p. 76). As such, media regulation has become a target for civil societies across the world. This has ensured that the government and regulatory authorities do not gag the media, and consequently, awareness has increased. It is important to highlight that media regulation has been used by repressive and authoritarian political regimes to gain political mileage over the opposition. The civil society has, therefore ensured good governance in many parts of the world by condemning such acts. This has led to a significant reduction of the laws and policies that aim at reducing the roles of the media of gathering, receiving and disseminating information to the public. A good illustration is the rise of vibrant civil society groups in Egypt. The civil society ensured that the government reduced the number of laws that act as potential pitfalls for the freedom of media.

Moreover, it is imperative to highlight that the process of globalization has also been instrumental in ensuring that numerous societies abide by the international principles that guide the freedoms of media, speech and expression. In the 21st century, it is common to witness various countries urging other countries to uphold the principles of freedom of media. As such, the process of globalization has ensured that countries do not operate in isolation (Hamelink 2000, pp. 56-92). In other words, the world has become a global village where specific acts of a country can affect the rest of the world. To this end, the process of globalization has ensured that countries are able to abide by internationally accepted code of conduct when addressing issues relating to media regulation, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and right to information. If a country does not abide by the principles, it is likely that other societies will isolate it. Isolation implies economic, social and political sanctions whose impacts are severe (Hamelink 2000, p. 72). As such, many countries will be willing to abide by the internationally accepted principles and procedures to avoid any risk of sanctions. To this end, the process of globalization has ensured that media regulation does not typify the 21st century as it was in the previous century. Besides, countries living in the globalized world cannot risk isolation due to stringent media regulations and policies.

The Growth of Self-Regulation and Strong Organizational Cultures

In the modern world, media organizations have embraced the concept of self-regulation in their operations. Self-regulation refers to a method of internal control by media where it filters raw information before disseminating it to the public (Hobbs 2007, p. 134). The concept of self-regulation has become common with numerous media outlets. Information that central governments regulated is now regulated by media organizations (Jenkins et al. 2007, p. 56). As such, media organizations have continuously embraced ethical practices that limit the intervention of the government. According to Jenkins et al. (2007, p. 56), self-regulation has become part of the modern media organizations that attempt to become competitive. It is therefore unlikely to find information that may cause tension and hatred being relayed in modern print or electronic press. While critics argue that the freedom of media has led to irresponsible journalism, research shows that self-regulation by the media has grown intensively over the last decade. Self-regulation has, therefore reduced external intervention and controls especially by the government considerably (Hobbs 2007, p. 151).

In addition, the growth of strong media organizations has increased the need for ethical corporations in the media industry. The modern business environment dictates that different companies ought to adopt ethical practices in order to remain competitive and increase their profit margins (McQuail & Siune 1998, p. 353). In other words, many corporations in the media industry have found that ethical practices do improve not only the public image but also enhance customer loyalty and satisfaction. For instance, Murdoch and Brooks Scandal in the UK served as a point of reference for many media outlets. Since many media companies do not want to trend that root, self-regulation has become a major characteristic of their operations. It is, therefore, important to highlight that media regulation has reduced significantly in the wake of self-regulation and ethical practices. As elucidated by McQuail & Siune (1996, p. 353), media regulation by the central government has reduced because companies compete for audience and adopt appropriate methods of acquiring, disseminating and imparting information on the society.

Many incentives come together with ethical practices. They include awards by internationally accredited organizations and media organizations. Winning these awards does not only increase the competitiveness of a company but also improve the public image of the company. This implies that numerous companies will attempt to uphold all ethical practices, including self-regulation, in order to scoop such awards (Lessig1999, p. 131). To that end, the media companies have the motivation and incentives to report and broadcast information in an ethical manner. In the 20th century, governments had a major role in filtering media content and ensuring that the media remained within the policy frameworks that guide their operations (Lessig1999, p. 131). Conversely, this has changed significantly with the growth of strong organizational culture and professionalism. Therefore, it is essential to point out that media regulation will not last in the 21st century.

Growth and Spread of Digital Technology

21st century has been typical of the massive growth of technology, especially at the dawn of the digital age. This has ensured that numerous people across the world can access information through many avenues that the government may not be in a position to regulate. Specifically, the rise of telecommunication multinationals coupled with the competition, have led to affordable and portable gadgets with which people can access information. The increase in mobile phones, even in developing countries, has ensured that individuals can access information at the comfort of their places. Besides, mobile phones have evolved with the rise in demand for internet connectivity. According to Hallin & Mancini (2004, p. 34), the world has witnessed a rise in the utilization of mobile phones since 2000. In fact, the utilization of internet-enabled gadgets has increased by 67% since 2001 (Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2011, p. 112). It is common, therefore, for people to own smartphones that do not only operate like personal computers but also enhance the flow of information and information sharing. To that end, the increase in digital technology has reduced the ability of state institutions to monitor and potentially regulate the rate of information flow and sharing. Thus, media regulation policies have become extinct and redundant. As such, they are inapplicable in modern societies.

Further, constant innovation of technology has seen the growth of numerous platforms through which people can access information. This is notwithstanding the government regulations that are prevalent in a specific region. As earlier mentioned, many innovative, creative and easy-to-use social media platforms have emerged across the world. A major innovation in terms of digital technology is the Facebook social networking platform. The launch was a revolution in the manner in which information is gathered and shared. With little or no government regulation on such social platforms, the government has found its regulatory role in the peripheral, as many people embrace media literacy (Lievrouw & Livingstone 2011, p. 86). It is worth mentioning that the most untamed media in the contemporary world is social media. As such, the increase in digital technology has allowed the modern media to flourish despite initial regulations.

Due to the increase in technological change, many public and private institutions have embraced digitized services and processes. This implies that many government institutions are part of the digital world. As such, it is difficult to limit the mainstream media from gathering specific information and subsequently, disseminating it. Of particular interest is the emergence of digital education curriculums. Many students are now able to access all information through the internet and receive instructions through the same platform (Lievrouw & Livingstone 2011, p. 76). As such, the upcoming generations will be media literate, and hence, the government will find it even more challenging to regulate media. In fact, statistics show that over 80% of high school students have access to the internet and have used it at least once to search for information relating to classwork (Comer et al. 2008, p. 576). While many critics point out that such exposure to the internet is corruptive, it is important to underscore the role that the internet has played in ensuring that students and the whole education institution run effectively. Despite the increase in the utilization of modern and digital technology, some countries still suffer from considerable digital divide (Mahan 2002, p. 198). This has limited their ability to acquire necessary skills that are valuable in the modern world. However, the digital divide continues to lessen, as is media regulation in the contemporary world. To that end, the growth and rise of digital technology has led to reduced media regulation across the world

Growing Negative Perception of Media Censorship

Magoon (2010, p. 76) asserts that media regulation occurs in different ways depending on the country of origin and target audience. In authoritarian regimes, various media regulations target specific media content in order to censor it. This implies that some information does not reach people within a specific jurisdiction that has implemented media censorship policies. While it is almost impossible to regulate people’s ability to share information, some countries such as Syria, China and Malaysia have continuously censored some media content (Magoon 2010, p. 76). For instance, internet sites that belong to the perceived enemies (the West) have been blocked by the repressive Syrian regime. As such, media censorship does deny not only the citizens the right to information but also violates the principles and fundamentals of free media. Subsequently, media censorship has a close association with dictatorial and repressive regimes. Due to the interconnectedness and interdependence of the nations of the world, any actions that threaten democracy are condemned (Mahan 2002, p. 193). Therefore, many countries have eased their stringent media censorship trends in order to gain acceptance in the global village. In the 21st century, it is almost impossible to impose media censorship on local media owing to the negative perspectives that the country will acquire from the world (Magoon 2010, p. 94). The perception may also lead to loss of economic edge over other countries.

Shrinking Government Influence

Unlike in 20th century, the role of the central government in almost all countries has reduced significantly in lieu of the fact that governance structures have improved and strengthened greatly (McQuail & Siune 1998, p. 53). Apparently, many media organizations file litigations against the government upon imposition of media regulation policies that do not enshrine freedom of media and freedom of speech and expression. Strong governance structures have forced the government to reduce its hitherto momentous influence on the media and the media content. In the 21st century, it is impossible to impose media regulations that have become unpopular in other parts of the world, owing to the fact that media companies traverse many jurisdictions. For instance, it would be absurd to ban such international news channel as BBC since it will continue to broadcast the same information from other jurisdictions. Slagle (2009, p. 239) asserts that it is illogical to suppose that information has boundaries amidst the rise of numerous platforms of sharing information such as the internet.

Government’s influence has also reduced owing to the rise of powerful and multinational corporations in the media industry (Picard 1988, p. 139). The rationale is that the international media apply different principles and codes of ethics that may not be found in a specific jurisdiction. This implies that international bodies and institutions have come up to replace the proactive roles that central government played in the previous centuries. There has been an increase in international institutions that monitor media operations (Picard, 1988, p. 140). Although international regulation of the media is still common in the modern world, its ability to impose regulations and punitive measures on rogue media houses has reduced significantly. McQuail (2004, p. 82) says that international bodies abide by international statutes that uphold the people’s right to information and their freedom of speech and expression. To this end, it is important to underscore the fact that government’s influence has reduced significantly since the 20th century.


While it is quite agreeable that media regulation will not last in the 21st century from the above arguments, opponents assert that media regulation will continue to typify the modern media industry. At the outset, they point out that the growth of the internet will not exist without regulations. The reason is that central governments have the right and responsibility to protect the public from harmful content that is typical of the media. In particular, various states have shut down many internet sites in the 21st century due to public interest. Sites that propagate extremism and incitement have been regulated since time immemorial. As such, critics say that negative elements of media will continue to thrive in the society against the wishes of the citizens (Comer et al. 2008, p. 569). It is, therefore, in the interest of the public to have such sites regulated. For instance, media platforms that use unconventional means to gather the information that may risk national security will continue to experience unsurpassed regulation from government actors. In the wake of 21st century, there has been a rise in terrorism, child pornography and other aspects that may elicit the need for government regulation on the media (Scharrer 2005, p. 332). To them, the government and other state actors will continue to enhance surveillance on such content for the larger interest of the society.

Further, the Universal Declaration of Human rights of 1948 articulates that every right enshrined in the convention has its own responsibility in the manner in which it is exercised (Salvaggio 1985, pp. 430-448). Therefore, freedom of speech and expression comes with rights and responsibilities. McQuail (2005, p. 63) points out that the manner in which individuals exercise such rights should not interfere with other people’s right. As such, media regulation is an inescapable fact where the government must and ought to regulate the manner in which media relay information (Pool1983, p. 61). This is the only way that the government is able to regulate patterns of interaction over such platforms as the internet. Besides, the emergence of whistleblowers on the internet has displayed the need for the government to monitor the content that the media intends to broadcast. For instance, the recent leaks about surveillance prism of the United States have elicited indifferent reactions across the world. The whistleblower, Edward Snowden, revealed some of the most classified information of the National Security Agency (NSA), which could threaten the security of American society. To this end, the government has fired the whistleblower for allegedly revealing information that could threaten the security of others. This is just an illustration of the way people might attempt to reveal classified information and engage in unconventional behaviours should the government fail to regulate the mass media.


In essence, media regulation was rampant in the 20th century but will not last long in the 21st century. Until then, central governments played an important role in streamlining the media content. Besides, the central governments played the regulatory role due to the apparent need for ensuring that frequencies were not congested. However, the emergence of the internet as the most influential mass medium has reduced the role of the government in a considerable way. The internet has also allowed the emergence of numerous platforms where people can share information without suffering government’s intervention. In addition, the processes of globalization and democratization have allowed all global citizens to enjoy fundamental human rights (Nerone 1995, p. 83). Such rights include the right to information and freedom of speech and expression. Thus, the two processes have worked together to limit the government’s regulatory role in the 21st century. Moreover, the 21st century has been typical of the massive growth of innovative digital technology. This has, in turn, allowed many people to access information through portable gadgets.

The modern media has portrayed media censorship in a negative way. This has reduced the incidences of media censorship and allowed free media to flourish. It is also worth mentioning that the central government and other state actors have had their influence reduced significantly in the 21st century. This has ensured that the media has enough space and play a significant role in informing the public. Finally, the rise of multinational media companies has enhanced self-regulation and other ethical practices in the media industry. Self-regulation and growth of strong organizational cultures within the media sector have ensured that every media outlet is responsible for the conveyance of information (Pool1983, p. 61). Nonetheless, critics believe that media regulation will not go away just yet. They assert that media regulation enhances national security, reduces crime and ensures that people enjoy their freedoms responsibly.


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