Why is a free press important in a democracy?

The Song dynasty in China and later Goryeo Dynasty in Korea have used metal movable-type printing technology in the 13th century. Therefore, we can say that it wasn’t a completely new idea around when Guttenberg invented his printing press and printed the first book bible in Latin in 1455. But the journey of today’s press is taken to have started from Guttenberg’s invention. From that small machine that used a century old pressing method to get prints and thus getting the name ‘printing press’ to this billion dollar industry that we cannot avoid contact with, even for a single day, a lot has happened. From its only medium of paper in the beginning, press is now on every medium of communication, thus popularly known as media.

Across the globe, the press has been given a reasonably fair amount of freedom. Especially in India where the press was formed with the sole motive of the Country’s freedom, freedom of press was totally unquestionable since it was totally driven by a sense of what is good for the people. In India press played a majorly important role in getting people together as a country. It got everyone rich or poor, and diverse communities, on the same page, when everything between them was different. There were instances such as Vernacular Press Act, when British restricted press’s freedom to write against them. And thus the question of press’s freedom was arouse for the very first time. It was clearly unethical to suppress the access of common people to truth and reality by tailoring press’s freedom. Because press was considered and really was the face of truth. But is that the case today?

Back when we were not free, everyone strived for it. And now when freedom is a way of living, there is high possibility of its misuse. And that is the case with press too. In India after article 19 A presented freedom to press saying that there should be absence of statutory and administrative control on dissemination of information, ideas knowledge and thoughts, the question has been changed. Our press is totally free from control of government. Our leaders have always been in favour of a free press. Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “I would rather have a completely free press, with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom, than a suppressed or regulated press”. Same thoughts have been spoken worldwide too. Voltaire, a French enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher too has said, “I do not agree with a word you say but I defend to death your right to say it”.

Even when Indira Gandhi was not happy with the absolute freedom press had, she did not impose any restrictions to it. She said she thinks it is the duty of press leaders to understand how, where and to what extent they should use their freedom and thus be morally right. But during the state of emergency from 1975 to 1977, she censored the press too along with suspendeding civil liberties. She was widely criticised for the same thus showing that the press should always have the freedom as it is the medium of information and also the bridge of communication between the citizens and the government. In a democracy, press introduces checks and balances and thus provides a framework for the government. It, when used correctly, can help maintain the transparency between the people’s government and its people. Therefore it is always important to argue for a free press.

Now that the press is free from control of the government officially, the question is, is our free press really free to present the truth, as it is, with just facts and not biased and under researched conclusions? Because after the loss of the agenda of freedom for the country, the press had to, in order to survive industrialisation, become business oriented. Many wise men saw the opportunity and invested in this newly emerging industry. Thus these platforms are now owned by personalities that are prominent in the structure of this country. And surely they want their investments to give back returns. Therefore press has become now more money and profit oriented. The increase in the number of unethical advertisements is a perfect indicator of the same. No wonder the term "paid media" is used very often.

Also, since press is now property of few privileged people , they use it for their own agendas. That could be the reason that often the stories of common man are thought to be less worthy than bollywood gossip. There are many instances of joint ownership between media platforms on national and international level too. And therefore one’s agenda is backed by its other media platform. Thus we can say that now these platforms are run on their owner’s thought and work accordingly to fulfil their agenda. This is why we see different biased perspectives on the news and not just the facts. Every news is tilted towards an agenda which the news outlet follows. Same news on different platforms is presented with different point of view of different communities but in spit of this, the bias becomes evident.

Press today not only decides the topic to think of national conversation but an endorsed view of that topic too. We are constantly told what to think about and how to think about it. And this is done in line with the agenda they are following. You may notice that some press platforms are often pro something. Some are pro government or any political party. It totally depends on the owner’s political inclination. Some newspapers and news channels were started with the sole purpose of spreading the political party’s agenda. These are used to influence people and be on their side.
In this situation, it has again become important to argue for a completely free press. Because a press owned by agendas and personal motives of political parties or business men is sure to tailor the truth to fit their personal motives. And in a world of intelligent humans where every capable country is ready with its nuclear missiles, tampering with truth can have devastating results.

The third world countries are complaining that their situations and events are not being presented fairly to the world by the media of developed nations. This is due to the interference of powers in the working of media. In a many religion country like India such tampering can lead to riots and agitation among communities.

Keeping the negative consequences of misinformation in mind, it is thus, important to argue for a completely free press which should only be controlled by limitations for freedom of speech and expression mentioned in the Article 19 B in India. In order for the press to truly emerge as an enabler of true democracy and the voice of the people, extensive care must be placed on the role of the media and the conditions in which they operate to guarantee its freedom.

- Manali Shelke

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Why is a free press important in a democracy? Why is a free press important in a democracy? Reviewed by EMN on March 02, 2019 Rating: 5

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