In recent years, there has been a perceptible increase in far-reaching restrictions on the media across the globe. This impulse to restrain media freedom stems from a variety of real and perceived “threats” – from concerns about national security, to demands for media “ethics” and “responsibility”, to accusations of the media’s role in the dissemination of so-called “fake news”, most recently. The urge of states to regulate is also reinforced by the overall devaluation of the critical role played by a free and independent media across liberal democracies around the world.
The trend towards ramping up the regulation of the media has worrying implications in these states and others who are currently considering a similar response: the inability of the media to perform its role as a – if not, the – key public watchdog, the erosion of states’ international legal obligations and political commitments on freedom of expression, and a lessening of freedom of the media as a whole.
Under international law, specifically Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states do not have free reign to control the media. Limitations on media freedom, as an aspect of freedom of expression, are allowed only in certain, narrowly defined circumstances, such as national security or the protection of privacy. However, a great many governments are currently approaching media regulation as though restrictions may be imposed at the complete discretion of states regardless of international law and commitments.