With libertarian dispensations such as in the USA enormous formal leeway exists for the expression of all manner of views and claims. These allow for situations of entirely voluntary individual adherence to general normative frameworks. As prevails in the USA, publications are free to follow or ignore the canon of facticity, objectivity, etc. that characterises the ideology of most news practice in that country. Thus, the New York Times “self-regulates” in terms of ethical standards widely found in the industry, while the National Enquirer is pretty much free to follow its own standards and definitions of journalism. The idea is that the free market indirectly “regulates”, with consumer choice and advertising dollars determining what prevails. In such dispensations, it is only the courts (or in broadcasting, the licensing authority) which can apply sanctions (post-publication) to media houses or individual journalists concerning content which exceeds boundaries like defamation or vulgarity.
Self-regulation in an institutional sense differs from government-regulation in that it is voluntary system (albeit it collective to the wider industry to various extents in different countries). This nonetheless differs from the American situation in that it involves media institutional authority that, by agreement of its voluntary subscribers, has the power to impose sanctions on members if they violate an agreed code of conduct.
One of the principles underlying industry-wide institutional self-regulatory systems has been elaborated by O’Neill who describes “freedom of expression” as a self-regarding right, and “freedom of the press” as “other regarding”. In this view, free speech is not per se obliged to take account of ethics, whereas journalistic speech makes the claim of being guided by the ideals of truth-telling, independence, public interest and consideration for the impact of a given communication. From these aspirations, it logically follows that journalism (whether practised by media institutions or individual bloggers) entails some accountability in regard to its own claims, and thence the establishment of systems and procedures instituted to this end. In addition, when journalism as “other-regarding speech” impacts on the rights of others, a self-regulatory dispensation for the industry is intended to ensure that journalism respects its limits inasmuch as it should not, as a