Digital Media and Society Blog How is information a 'public good' in the media profession - Essay Example

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It is widely acknowledged that we now live in the Information Age in which information has become one of the most important of non-tangible ’goods’. Furthermore, the extent of information becoming available is increasing rapidly. …
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Digital Media and Society Blog How is information a public good in the media profession? It is widely acknowledged that we now live in the Information Age in which information has become one of the most important of non-tangible ’goods’. Furthermore, the extent of information becoming available is increasing rapidly. Access to information can be protected or restricted, in which case it constitutes private information, or it can be made available to everyone, making it a ‘public good’. Thus, much of the information available on the Internet is a public good, but it is still access to the information that determines whether it is private or public. On the other hand, it is important to be aware that even publicly available information can be controlled and used as tools for manipulation (as in news propaganda). A true public good can therefore be understood as one that is reflective of the global village we live in.
Technically, a public good is one that has the following two economic characteristics: (1) The cost of providing it does not depend on how many consumers will benefit from it; (2) It is infeasible to exclude those who do not pay for it. Adam Smith used the example of a lighthouse to illustrate a public good. An important distinction between a lighthouse and information however is that information can be more easily charged for, and it may involve the transfer of a medium such as paper. But information is not like a purely private good either, so it can be described as a quasi-public good then. However, without getting into the argument of whether or not information is a public good, this blog will briefly discuss the need for and some of the issues surrounding information as a public or quasi-public good.
The need for information being made widely available as a public good is strongly felt in regard to scientific and medical information. This is because it has a great potential for benefitting society as a whole. CODATA and ICSU are two organisation that have both been actively promoting “open access to scientific data and information on a global basis” (Esanu & Uhlir, 2004:3). Thus, we find for example there is open access to medical research findings through such online databases as PubMed. It is not exhaustive but at least it is a step in the right direction towards recognising medical research information as a public good. There is an issue of some kinds of information being too complicated for everyone to understand, and processes that add “meanings, values, and sometimes barriers” (Esanu & Uhlir, 2004:3) to the information, but this is besides the principle of making mutually beneficial information a public good. The field of media has already long enjoyed public accessibility, at least in those places where the media is free. In fact, the availability of media information is even seen as the fourth arm of the state in which case media information at least is not just a public good but a critical component. The importance of information as a public good in general can also be gauged from the fact that the United Nations has organised two world summits to “take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society… [and to] reach agreements in the fields of Internet governance, …” (
The social implications of making information a public good touched upon above, raises the question of who precisely can take advantage of the information. By extension, this also includes who cannot and its implications. The dystopian perspective sees this situation in terms of creating a ‘digital divide’ (Katz & Rice, 2002:6). Moreover, several issues make us reconsider the very concept of a public good. These include intellectual property rights, the display of violence and indecency, the exposure of children to negative information especially violence and sexual imagery (Lloyd, 2007:8). The Internet is the greatest and most convenient source of publicly available sources of information. But the Internet has also become the place “to go see exactly what they want to see as graphically as they want to see it” (Cole, 2007). This side of new communications media has therefore prompted many to demand the imposition of restrictions to contain the negative social consequences. In effect, this means that not kinds of information should me made public goods without consideration under a morally and legally guiding framework. Being classified as a public good also raises the question of whether it should be publicly supported and even funded. Social networking sites for example, have become public goods but it is questionable whether they are on a par with say health and educational institutions to justify formal support. Does this then require a distinction between types of information that are public goods, or types of public goods?
Cole, Jeff. 2007. In Lloyd, 2007. P. 21.
Esanu, Julie M. and Uhlir, Paul F. 2004. Open access and the public domain in digital data
and information for science: proceedings of an international symposium. National Academic Press.
Katz, James E. and Rice, Ronald E. 2002. Social Consequences of Internet Use: Access, Involvement, and Interaction. The MIT Press.
Lloyd, Mark, 2007. Media, Creativity and the Public Good. Aspen Institute. Retrieved November 8, 2009 from
Websites: United Nations World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
PubMed. PubMed Central. Read More
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