Definition of freedom of the press
Freedom of the press is one of the basic rights in a democratic society. Basically by the word “Freedom of Press” we mean the freedom of newspapers and other media. Its influence in society is so powerful that sometimes this sector is called the “Fourth State” of a democracy.
The press forms opinions, creates mass awareness, controls policies through well-informed criticisms. The press is so powerful that sometimes the most powerful autocratic ruler is forced to pay heed to the mass people. Napoleon Bonaparte used to say ” your hostile newspapers are more to be feared than thousand bayonets’ ‘. As per the definition of merriam-webster, freedom of the press is ‘’the right to publish and disseminate information, thoughts, and opinions without restraint or censorship’’.
Freedom House defines press freedom as the ability of journalists to report freely on matters in a crucial indicator of democracy. A free press can inform citizens of their leaders’ successes or failures, convey the people’s needs and desires to government bodies, and provide a platform for the open exchange of information and ideas. When media freedom is restricted, these vital functions break down, leading to poor decision-making and harmful outcomes for leaders and citizens alike.’’
Importance of Press freedom:
An independent, well informed press is a powerful weapon on arbitrary governments and irresponsible administrators. Newspapers bring out to the notice of the people any acts of injustice, oppression, or maladministration, which would have remained concealed from the public.
As a result, people get rid of injustice and administrative malpractices in a massive way. However, such a notion is true only when the society is democratic in a true sense.
Without real freedom of speech, human values can never be established, and human rights can never be established in a proper way.
Freedom of the Press is a must for the development of the society and progress of civilization. If the freedom of the press does not exist in a society, it will remain in a static and stagnant position. Because only the freedom of speech and press can ensure the acceleration and dynamism of a democracy.
People become more conscious about their social and political rights, about the exploitation they are being victimized to, and thus they become active and more enthusiastic to eradicate the social and political anomalies.
Besides these, a free press can bring out the socio-economic as well as the political problems of the society. It also helps to express the grievances of the people and express their views about various kinds of issues. Thus, a free press can play an important role in bringing about political stability in a country by making the people aware of their problems.
The free press also can mold the character of the people and inculcate patriotism in them. In times of national crises, the free press also organizes the people of the country and brings them to the same platform to defend the country.
Difficulty in achieving the Freedom of the press:
But as a matter of fact, it is difficult for the press to be free itself. Newspapers are controlled by various kinds of stakeholders. A newspaper is either controlled by a financial magnate, and it has to voice its own voice.
Or it is the mouthpiece of a party and it must think as the party might direct the way it is under the terms of the government, and in that case, its usefulness is reduced to a great extent. Whoever is using newspapers as their own weapons, they are creating their own opportunity with the help of this giant media.
In America, newspapers are in the hands of powerful financial syndicates, in England, they are in the hands of the capitalist, and in Russia as well as in the socialist countries, they are in the hands of the government.
In each case, freedom of the press depends on the way it reflects the will and the purpose of the people as a whole in preference to that of any class or community or individual.
In the third world countries or the least developed countries, freedom of the press is rarely approved in the real perspective. These countries are mostly ruled by dictators and fascists in various forms. And the reality is, that dictators and fascists are not at all respectful of democratic norms and values.
They come to power by unfair means like rigging votes or resorting to military power. As those rulers do not come to power with people’s votes or direct opinions, they do not care for the opinion of the people and can not tolerate freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
As a result, they are always ready to gag the voice of mass people and interfere with the freedom of the press. However, the free flow of speech can not be stopped by taking any measures. Once general people will revolt against any types of unjust behavior of the tyrants. That is what happened in the war of independence in the year 1971 against the then Pakistani rulers.
World Press Freedom Index:
The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders since 2002 based upon the organization’s own assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year. In recent times, press freedom is quite a vulnerable position.
The World Press Freedom Index found that journalism was “totally blocked or seriously impeded” in 73 countries, while it was “constrained” in 59 others. Many governments had used the pandemic to worsen repression.
How to ensure the Freedom of the press:
Ensuring the freedom of the press is a massive task nowadays. Especially in third world countries, it is a general norm. To ensure press freedom or freedom of speech, there should be independent-minded journalists as well as social workers who have the courage for a free expression of opinions and unhampered publication of news.
They will refrain from publishing scurrilous, biased, false, or distorted news and should keep within the bounds of decorum. This should not be difficult to enforce once national interest dominates sectional interest.
Genuine freedom of the press can exist only in a real democratic society, where people are free and can function freely. Until and unless true democracy is established, no legislation can ensure the real freedom of the press.
However, the best way to ensure freedom of the press is to publish all news from accredited sources to allow free ventilation of opinions to all citizens and dispense with editorials, and to do away with all controls except in the public interest.
In fact, the lack of press freedom is a serious threat to the constitutional principle of democracy.