ESSAY on FREEDOM OF MEDIA
FREEDOM OF MEDIA
Media in itself stands as an important aspect in today’s world. And combining this crucial aspect with democracy makes it no less than a weapon. It can make or break a nation. The most important ingredient of democracy is the existence of free and fearless press. In a democracy, the press must enjoy complete freedom and should not be subjected to any restriction. The voice of the press is the voice of the people. The press plays a very positive and constructive role in a democracy. It keeps the people informed of the national and international news and happenings. It brings to the notice of people the programmes, policies and activities of the government. Similarly, it keeps the Government in the know of the people’s problems, difficulties, hopes and aspirations. Thus the press plays a dual role. It serves as a bridge between the Government on the one hand and the people on the other. The press is the defender and the protector of the rights and liberties of the people. But it can perform this role only if it enjoys freedom in publishing news, views and reporting. It can function effectively only in an open society, where decisions are made in a democratic manner. The press should never shirk from its responsibility. It should always act like an impartial judge. It should criticize the Government for its acts of omission and commission and pat its back for any worthwhile achievement. The press should not be scared of influential people. The press should consider it their duty to protect the right of the workers and other downtrodden sections of the people. While the press should enjoy freedom to perform its role effectively, it should not treat such freedom as a license to defame anybody. It should not publish any views or support any movement which violates our Constitution or is against the territorial integrity and unity of the country. In India, freedom of the press has been treated as part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution
Historically, the media have been organs of the people against feudal oppression. In Europe, the media played a major role in transforming a feudal society into a modern one. The print media played a role in preparing for, and during, the British, American and French Revolutions. The print media were used by writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius and John Wilkes in the people's fight against feudalism and despotism. Everyone knows of the great stir created by Thomas Paine's pamphlet ‘Common Sense' during the American Revolution, or of the letters of Junius during the reign of the despotic George III. The media became powerful tools in the hands of the people then because they could not express themselves through the established organs of power: those organs were in the hands of feudal and despotic rulers. Hence, the people had to create new organs that would serve them. It is for this reason that that the print media became known as the Fourth Estate. In Europe and America, they represented the voice of the future, in contrast to the feudal or despotic organs that wanted to preserve the status quo in society. In the 20th century, other types of media emerged: radio, television and the Internet.
Freedom is important, so is responsibility. In countries like India, the media have a responsibility to fight backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and help the people fight poverty and other social evils. Media comments on pending cases, especially on criminal cases where the life or liberty of a citizen is involved, are a delicate issue and should be carefully considered. Also, often the media publish correct news but place too much emphasis on frivolous news such as those concerning the activities of film stars, models, cricketers and so on, while giving very little prominence to much more important issues that are basically socio-economic in nature.
India ranks poorly at 136th rank out of 179 listed countries in the Press Freedom Index 2013 released by Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Analytically India's press freedom, as could be deduced by the Press Freedom Index, has constantly reduced since 2002, when it culminated in terms of apparent freedom, achieving a rank of 80 among the reported countries. India slipped three places in the 2017 world press freedom rankings to 136th among 180 countries, the dismal performance blamed on “Modi’s nationalism” and growing “self-censorship” in the mainstream media. “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media,” the report from media watchdog Reporters without Borders said. India was ranked 133 last year.
Freedom of press is the emblem of a civilized and enlightened society. Only a true pro-people government can ensure freedom of press. However, there should be a monitoring body to ensure both the proper use of this freedom and also to see that this freedom is not misused. Press should be prevented from publishing baseless, false and yellow news. They cannot publish distorted and fictive news and cannot harm any person or institution by attacking them on an ill-motivated interest. So Government must ensure freedom of press at the same time its proper and positive use for the country and the countrymen. Press is called the fourth pillar of a state. And newspapers are called people’s parliament. Newspapers and journals give us current picture of life, of things happening every moment. Today right to information is considered one of the fundamental rights of a civilized society and free flow of information is also vital for building a corruption free, accountable and transparent society. Hence their freedom is necessary in order to keep people informed of the affairs going around. Otherwise people remain in the dark and in that case, confusion, corruption and abuse of power hold firm in the society. A free media plays the role of a watchdog in society or country. Their influence is great, so their role is also immense. And that is why freedom of press is also necessary in order to know what is right, what is true and fair. Press, for its part, as a conscientious body of the society, should not misuse its freedom.