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What is the True Definition Behind Public Interest in Media?

What is the True Definition Behind Public Interest?


Public Interest” is a phrase that has stayed undefined throughout the history of telecommunications. After much research I was able to analyze and undercover my own definition for what I believe the phrase “public interest” means. To me, public interest is any information given or action taken that benefits the general population as a whole. I like this definition of public interests because it adequately represents what public interest should be, and how it should be handled. Anything that relates to protecting the public’s interest over the broadcasters is what I find very important when understanding public Interest. Public interests is a standard that should always reiterate its primary goal, which is to enhance public goods before generating profit.

Many people believe that the public interest standard is an idea that contradicts the ideas and practices of the First Amendment. Throughout the years many have deemed it as unconstitutional, however there have been several cases where the Supreme Court have ruled in favor of those representing public interest a manner that best suits the general population. For an example, in the Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976), a judge kept companies from broadcasting and publishing confession made by a defendant to the police enforcement. The judge believed it was in the public’s interests to not print these confessions in order to give the defendant a fair enough trial, so the Judge deemed that “prior restraint” was necessary to use. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the judge violated the First and Fourth amendments. Also, the courts concluded that withholding this type of information did more harm to the public than good. Judge of the Supreme Court case, Justice Warren Burger, stated, “ the whole community should not be restrained from discussing a subject intimately affecting life within.”

The administrators at the law school of University of Michigan have a very similar definition/opinion to what they believe public interest to be. They define public interest as “anything affecting the well-being, the rights, health, or finances of the public at large, most commonly advocating for those living in poverty or marginalized populations.” I like this opinion because it more or less explains the criteria of the Public interest standard. No matter what the case may be, I feel that the public should always be the primary reasoning behind the actions of our media. The public standard ensures that the well being of the masses be placed at higher regard than the individual. I believe that the University of Michigan would also agree with my understanding of public interest, simply because my definition represents the importance of the public and their right to be informed and rightfully served.

In addition, the Press Complains Commission code defines the public interest as “including but not confined to detecting and exposing crime, or serious impropriety; protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organization.” I feel that this definition is also similar to my definition, as well as the definition that the University of Michigan provided. I believe that the P.C.C. would agree with my definition simply because my understanding of “public interest” encompasses all the details within their statement. I like their opinion because it is a much more detailed definition than what we are use to historically As explained earlier, “public interest” does not have an actual definition, and this in itself causes many problems. However, the P.C.C’s definition is specific enough to portray the importance of public interest and its role.

Lastly, when reading “Public Interest As Discourse Shaped at The Crossroads Between Professional Values and Organizations In Communication Industries,” I found that I did not agree much with their definition, mainly because it seemed too vague. Consequently, vagueness is exactly what causes the start of many incorrect interpretations. The definition they used in this particular journal was one that The Guardian’s chief investigation editor, Alan Rusbridger wrote, which was, “Information that is in the public interest if it assists in the proper functioning of a democracy.” The reason why I have a problem with this opinion is because democracy is a very powerful term that is best represented in our Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment. Seeing as how the “ public interest standards “ causes problems for First Amendment practices, I feel it necessary to establish a different understanding in order to get the public, as well as the private organizations on the same page. I agree with using the standard as a means to analyze particular cases in order to establish the right rulings. However, I also feel it necessary to re-establish a much more accurate form of applying the standards in order to keep it from conflicting with our country’s amendments.