The media is different from other industries. Besides providing consumers with services they value as individuals, like entertainment and information, it also supplies a public good that benefits us as a society. In a modern democracy, the media keeps a nation informed about its government. The media helps to inform our votes, providing information that leads us to elect (or not) our governing officials. This is a public good because its use among an entire citizenry benefits each member of that citizenry
At least since Thomas Jefferson, we understand that democracy requires a well-functioning media industry. Reporting keeps citizens informed, so they can keep government accountable and make informed electoral decisions. A well-functioning media industry is a pluralistic and independent one: different sources compete with each other to bring the truth to citizens. However, things can go wrong: powerful political or economic forces can try to “capture the media” and manipulate public opinion in order to subvert democracy. This essay will report plenty of anecdotal and systematic evidence for this type of phenomenon.
To avoid the threat of media capture, democracies around the world have put in place a number of safeguards. One is free press legislation, which protects the media against direct government interference. However, there is another source of danger. If the media industry becomes highly concentrated, powerful media owners could attempt to manipulate public opinion.
However, the safeguards of the post-war period were not designed for the Facebook era. They were meant to limit concentration on the media platforms that existed then: newspapers, radio, and network television. The objective of this essay is to discuss whether and how media plurality rules can be adapted to the digital age.
This important and complex issue can be explored from many angles. This note will take a political economy approach. The political economy of mass media is an interdisciplinary effort of experts in economics and political science based on the idea that some phenomena are best understood by combining the methodologies of the two disciplines. This mostly empirical field helps us answer interdisciplinary questions that guide the study of media capture: Is reporting biased? Does biased reporting affect voting outcomes? Is media captured by political and economic interests? Does better reporting reduce corruption?