Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2010

Registering Reporters: How Licensing of Journalists Threatens Independent Media

Steven Strasser

November 2010

National Endowment for Democracy


How should a society choose those who can be entrusted with the power of the news media? For a time after World War II, many developing countries emerging from colonialism thought they had the answer: Governments should license journalists to support the crucial work of forging modern national identities. In a world of violently competing political ideas, these governments carefully vetted those who would follow the correct line. Freedom of the press was considered an unaffordable luxury. New countries attempting to find stability inside and outside of their borders needed a press that promoted patriotism, unity, and strong government. Today the international landscape has changed. In a more global economy, propaganda and ideological wars have lost some of their edge. The mass media are losing their institutional exclusivity, breaking down into smaller niches and broader networks in which a lone operator can build the authority of a professional journalist. In short, the old media are on the decline. The new media, with their growing ranks of journalists powered by the Internet and digital communications, are on the rise. This is also, on the whole, a democratizing world, in which developing countries are giving more weight to openness and freedom of expression.