FoE logoThe Freedom of Expression Project

Challenges and opportunities for freedom of expression in the networked environment

Information & Debate - the issues

info: Submitted by Lisa Horner on Wed, 2006-11-15 11:45.

Does the networked communications environment expand the ways we get information and access public debate?


The networked communications environment is challenging the traditional mass media model, of a one-way flow of information from news providers to the public. It is creating new ways for people to communicate with each other, in private conversations via e-mail and chat rooms, and in public discussions via blogs and internet forums. New communications offer people more opportunities to engage in public debate and shape the public agenda. They take power away from dominant groups that control the mass media such as big business and the state, and redistribute it amongst citizens. The networked communications environment makes it possible for us to build a more democratic and participatory media and public sphere.


The new opportunities do not necessarily translate into a more democratic public sphere. New communications provide as many new opportunities for disinformation, propaganda and thoughtless argument as they do for democratic debate and reasoned citizen journalism. The same powerful groups that dominate in the mass media also dominate the networked environment: governments and big business. Many internet users only look at the news sites of a few large news corporations, and not at the websites, blogs and user forums of fellow citizens. When people do look at alternatives, the sheer amount of information available means that many of them gravitate to sites that support their own opinions. This leads to public opinion becoming polarised and the public sphere fragmented.

Click on the links below to read project papers that discuss these issues.
New frontiers for freedom of expression? Increasing access to information and debate through new communications technologies
How can new technologies be harnessed to create an enhanced public service media environment?
The changing role of journalists in a world where everyone can publish