How has the development of the Internet affected media regulation?

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Media regulation is defined as the guidance or control of mass media by watchdogs and government via procedures, rules and laws in order to protect the public interest (Feintuck & Varney, 2006). It is commonly associated with print and broadcast news sources but the parameters of regulation have been continuously tested in recent years as a direct result of the development and exponential growth of the Internet and the new media that has emerged from it. Traditionally regulation of the media has occurred within a framework that incorporates models of self-regulation and government policy whilst maintaining the idea that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that should be respected and even nurtured by the media in democratic nations (Fourie, 2010).

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However, the development of the Internet has raised questions of this particular framework, such as its relevance to new media and its ability to govern an international rather than domestic entity, by adding another highly modern element to a diverse and increasingly colourful media. This essay will examine how the development of the Internet has affected media regulation by examining the theory concerning media regulation, the practical regulation and policy in place and how adequate it is for the Internet, and finally the arguments in favour of further development of regulation because of the development of the Internet and new media. This will be done with a view to concluding that the Internet has affected media regulation in that it has created a need for change in existing regulation, which has actually changed very little in terms of its practical application and is simply not sufficient enough to meet the challenges that the global and open nature of the Internet poses. Media theory incorporates ideas concerning policy, regulation and accountability and is vital in facilitating the identification of points at which the development of the Internet fits into or challenges the current regulatory framework. For example, although his work was published prior to the advent of the Internet, Habermas’s (1992) theory of discourse principle assumes that procedure may be linked with context so that all individuals can participate in a free and rational discourse that is legitimate and formative in terms of creating a consensus. Although relatively general in nature, this particular element of theory identifies the need for freedom for the media to provide disparate expressions and enduring debate on specific issues. This theory is applicable to the Internet as well as the media in general and this suggests that its remit fits into the applicable democratic media regulatory framework. Furthermore, Kogut (2004) places the development of the Internet firmly in the economic sphere and suggests that its rapid growth was a direct result of the globalisation of finance, trade and corporate governance. This implies that its role as a media platform was a secondary outcome of its development and therefore offers some explanation as to why a regulatory framework was not established from the outset.

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