The libertarian theory of the press is rooted in ideas that were formed during the Enlightenment of the 16th and 17th centuries. Being that the Enlightenment saw changes in theory within a cultural spectrum, the method by which people were obtaining information was changing as well.
Power was not solely given to one human being. These ideas manifested the American proclamation that all men have “inherent rights” that cannot be taken away (with the exception of non-whites of course). These ideas shaped the way that the press functioned. The middle class had emerged and “man was forced to rely on himself rather than on a divine Providence.”(Siebert, p. 42) It became clear to the masses that the people had more power than one person.
Everyone was after the truth. The truth was more desirable than faith. In that sense, news has followed the pattern of seeking the truth in order to inform the masses of what the truth actually is. Facts and truth are not the same. The truth has always been linked to the facts in everyone’s mind, but versions of the truth always vary.
The press has the liberty to seek the truth based on the facts by asking the people who matter. Ideally, the press would first start with a fact, find out the important people to consult in regards to those facts, and then allow the viewer, listener or reader to distinguish what they believe to be the truth.
Last unit, we discussed facts as being verifiable. Before this period of Enlightenment, what the King said was the truth. There was no need to verify it, because everyone believed that the King had divine wisdom from God. Now, we all have the liberty to believe what we want and find our own truths. Because of thinkers like Milton, Locke and Jefferson the press has served the interests of the people.
The evolution of the transfer from press being controlled by the church, state and then not controlled is what has caused our press to evolve into communication amongst the common folk. When newspapers shifted from opinionated to news medium, it required that journalists reported news objectively and according to Siebert journalists of that time thought, “their job was to require an attitude of aloofness.”(p. 60) This theory stems from principals that allow the masses to interact with each other in order to form ideas and explore options based on them.
The major advantage of a libertarian media theory is that it allows everyone the right to say something. Even though that right is available, we also have the right to abuse it. Consequently, having this theory fails to place a formal standard on the press. There is no specified way of handling it all.
These ideas are flexible and ever changing. Because of the liberty to question the way things work, we will always be revising the way things work. This is a reason why we are taking this class. In being presented these ways of thinking we are given the tools to create our own product based on the ideas we gain. It’s almost as if we are participating in an Enlightenment of our own.