SHOULD PRESS BE LIABLE OR NOT?
Recent years have increased legal accountability of producers and
advertisers for providing SAFE products and RELIABLE information to
customers. A government influences a wide range of market
operations from licensing requirements to contract actions. That
control announces and enforces determined norms of quality.
Each of these regulations is designed to protect consumers from
being hurt or CHEATED by defects in the goods and services they buy.
This matter, when producers look to the law rather than to the
market to establish and maintain new standards of quality (of their
goods), shows, that modern market has an ability of selfregulation.
But it also shows another unbelievable feature: consumers are both
incapable of rationally assessing risks and unaware of their own
Companies and corporations all over the world are systematically
inclined to SHIRK on quality and that without the threat of legal
liability may subject their customers or other people to serious risk
of harm from their products if it could save money by doing so.
According to this point of view, for most goods and services,
consumers are POWERLESS to get producers to satisfy their demand for
safe, high-quality products! The unregulated market lets unfair
producers to pass on others the costs of their mistakes.
Legal liability is ready to correct these "market failures" by
creating a special mechanism (feedback), regulating relations
between producers and customers. Unfair producers should be punished
and their exposure is increasing.
One market,however, has completely ESCAPED the imposition of legal
liability. The market for political information remains genuinely
ee of legally imposed quality obligations. The electronic mass
media are subject to more extensive government regulation than paid
media, but in their role as suppliers of political information,
nothing is required to meet any externally established quality
In fact, those, who gather and report the news, have no legal
obligations to be competent, thorough or disinterested. And those,
who publish or broadcast it, have no legal obligation to warrant its
truthfulness, to guarantee its relevance, to assure its
The thing is: Should the political information they provide fail,
for example, to be truthful, relevant, or complete, the costs of
this failure will not be paid by press. Instead they will be borne
by the citizens. Should the information intrude the privacy of an
individual or destroy without justification an individual's
reputation - again, the cost will not be borne by producer of it.
This side of "activity" of producers of harmful or defective
information (goods, services, etc) practically is not acknowledged.
Producers of most goods and services are considered worlds APART
from the press in kind, not just in degree. Holding producers in
ordinary markets to ever higher standards of liability is seen as
PROCOMSUMER. Proposing holding the press to any standard of
liability for political information is seen as ANTIDEMOCRATIC. The
press is constitutionally obligated to check on the government.
Most of policymakers justify legal liability for harms, caused by
goods and services and quite limited liability for harms, caused by
information. Liability for defective consumer products is PREDICATED
on a market failure. As for "unfair" producers, power of possible
profits PREVENT consumers from translating their true preferences
for safety and quality into effective demand. So, customer
preferences remain outside the safety and quality decision-making
process of producers. Today, it'll be a new mechanism to force
producers to follow customers true preferences.
Lack of liability for defective or harmful political information
can be predicated only on a different kind of supposed market failure
- not a failure of the market to SUPPLY the LEVEL of safety that
customers want but its failure to supply the amount of political
information that society should have. Some experts say, that free
market has tendency to produce "too little" correct information,
especially political information.
The thing is: political information is a public good and it has
many characteristics of a public good. That is a product that many
people value and use but only few will pay for. Factual(real)
information cannot easily be restricted to direct purchasers. Many
people benefit who do not pay for it because the market cannot find
the way to charge them. As you can see, providers of political
information try to get as much profit as possible spreading it, so
they HAVE TO supply "too little" info. Otherwise - the market FAILS!
Here is another reason. Some analysts consider that the market also
fails because of low demand. Even if suppliers could "earn all their
money", they wouldn't provide the socially optimal amount of info!
Private demand for political info will never be the same as social
demand. And it will never reflect its full social value.
If it were true, that political information was regularly
underproduced by the market, there would be cause for serious
concern that might well justify generous sibsidies - in the form of
freedom from liability for the harms they cuase - for information
providers. But a proper look at modern market shows that producers
of political information have developed a wide range of strategies
for increasing the benefits of their efforts to solve the public
The most obvious example of a spontaneously generated market
solution to the public good problem is ADVERTISING. By providing
revenue in proportion to the relative size of the audience (for
radio & TV) or the readership (for magazines & newspapers),
advertisers play a SIGNIFICANT role in the internalizing process. In
effect, the sale of advertising at a price that varies according to
the number of recipients permits information producers to
appropriate the benefits of providing a product that many people
value but few would pay for directly. Advertising has an effect of
transforming information from a public into a private good. It makes
possible for information providers to make profits by satisfying the
tastes of large audiences for whose desire to consume information
they are unable to charge directly.
Thus, customer of goods or services and citizen of any country -
are in the same conditions. Like customers - citizens may have (and
they have) different preferences for political information, but
citizens do not value information about politics only because it
contributes to their ability to vote intelligently and customers do.
Like customers - citizens' tastes differ in many ways and that
generate wide variations in the intensity of their demand for
Since it does not appear to be true, that political information
market is blocked by an ongoing problem of undersupply, the
conventional justification for granting the press broad freedom from
legal liability for the harms it causes must give away! It does not
necessarily mean that the economic case for legal sanctions has been
made. Although it seems the market could be relied upon to supply
"enough" information. So that subsidies in the form of protection
from legal liability are not needed. Personal responsibility and
legal accountability would be 100% if the information market could
internalize to producers not only the benefits but also the costs of
their activities & failures. As for victims, they'll get one more
chance to avoid the harms happened from the production of defective
Legal accountability for harm is desirable in a market that
systematically fails to punish "unfair"