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Social Media and the Freedom of the Press: a long-term Perspective from within International News Agencies (AFP, Reuters)

Keywords: international news-flows , professional news-persons , citizens , democratization , “Arab spring” , media freedoms

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Since the 1780s, discussions among news professionals on issues such as access to sources and the funding of “the media” are often at odds with issues debated by legislators, activists, the executive and the judiciary, in the USA, France and Britain. Is this the case today, with the debate on “social media”, the “Arab spring”, Internet, blogs, SMS, “Twitter” and the like? This is one issue that will be addressed. The authors have researched the history and present news-products and performance of AFP and Reuters (now Thomson-Reuters) for many years. The second issue addressed here is: how do news-professionals assess current geopolitical and technological “changes” with respect to their established canons and practices of news-reporting? How do they access, filter, and select from the apparent abundance of sources emerging from “civil society actors”, while respecting established practices of news-agency journalism? As the very notion of “mainstream media” encompasses an ever-growing number of actors (CNN is “mainstream”, al-Jazeera has become ‘mainstream’…), is the issue of access to an ever-widening number of sources to be reassessed in terms not only of the freedom of the media but also to that of the resources available to “seasoned, reputable” news-professionals and their organizations to check, cross-check the “images”, “texts” and numbers emanating from these sources? Issues such as the freedom of the media are ever-more linked to that of the canons of international news-reporting. The authors argue that whereas the freedom of the media is still of central importance, the advent of communications technologies – and the commercial logics that underpin them – often linked to the Internet, radically modify how news-professionals go about their business, in an era of “globalization”, “social media” and “democratization”.


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