A free press is defined as one that is entirely free from government censorship regarding politics or ideology. That said, this definition is not satisfactory.
As it stands, this definition fails to consider that there are other factors — such as the interests of publication’s owners, or perhaps the convictions of the publication staff, or simply the will of the writer — that influence the views being presented by the pen and deter objectivity.
Now, unless we can envision a non-human entity that merely presents all facts of an event without any subjective influence, something that is frankly inconceivable, this problem seems unavoidable. And while I don’t plan to solve the issue of how objectivity should be maintained in a subjective world, it is worthwhile to understand some of the problems associated with conflicts of interests and the free press.
The press has an ostensible objective to be non-partisan and to present nothing but the cold, hard facts, and if individuals with obvious political ambitions finance a certain publication, then it seems likely that the press, regardless of attempts to maintain objectivity, would fail to meet this goal. It seems particularly difficult — perhaps because of my inherent skepticism — to imagine backers providing funding to an institution that has a negative impact on their political interests.
It is also not necessarily what a press chooses to publish that betrays their ambitions, but what a publication chooses not to.
Consider the following example: suppose Pipe Dream received all of its funding from specific donors, and these donors were involved in a scandal that, for argument’s sake, affected many Binghamton University students. If all college news publications are required to publish information relevant to the interests of the student body, then it seems that Pipe Dream would have an obligation to publish information about the scandal.
Now, it is plausible that a private apology could be wrung from the mentioned publication, but what seems more likely is that a public article would be released, perhaps with an apology, explaining why the funding parties were not necessarily in the wrong.
The other alternative would likely be that they would do all they could to play hush hush.
Of course, the existence of several news publications provides some level of checks and balance on issues, and the existence of news publications — right-leaning, left-leaning and moderate alike — help to protect the free exchange of ideas.
Because of the subjectivity and interests of media-producers, the media-consumer is often left in the dark. Even when the reader or viewer does his own share of research, he still may have no better an understanding of what is or is not significant.
Ultimately, a citizen must adopt certain values and then, after reading a publication, rectify whether or not the ideas of a publication resonate with those values.