The accountability of the media is a normative notion that underlies the balance of freedom and social responsibility across media structure, performance, and product.
From the birth of the press, its freedom has been strongly connected with social expectations for the media to protect the public interest and to improve the quality of democracy (→ Freedom of the Press, Concept of). Fundamentally, it is a matter of balancing freedom and responsibility, and two measures have been used primarily for that purpose: the market and the law. Neither approach, however, has proven successful. The free market measures often fail to secure plurality in media ownership and diversity in media content. On the other hand, legal regulations, such as → censorship and other repressive measures legislated to protect the public good, often infringe freedom itself.
Many alternatives to these two approaches have been suggested. The theory of ‘social responsibility’ emphasizes the importance of media freedom to scrutinize power and to provide accurate information. It suggests that the media’s obligations to society be fulfilled primarily by self-regulation, i.e., by the voluntary efforts of media owners and practitioners (→ Ethics in Journalism; Professionalization of Journalism). Although the theory contributed to the notion of media responsibility, it was not successful in detailing exactly how to hold the free market media socially responsible. ...