Freedom Of The Press Essay
Freedom of the Press
Although a cherished right of the people, freedom of the press is different from other liberties of the people in that it is both individual and institutional. It applies not just to a single person's right to publish ideas, but also to the right of print and broadcast media to express political views and to cover and publish news. A free press is, therefore, one of the foundations of a democratic society, and as Walter Lippmann, the 20th-century American columnist, wrote, "A free press is not a privilege, but an organic necessity in a great society." Indeed, as society has grown increasingly complex, people rely more and more on newspapers, radio, and television to keep abreast with world news, opinion, and political ideas. One sign of the importance of a free press is that when antidemocratic forces take over a country, their first act is often to muzzle the press.
Thomas Jefferson, on the necessity of a free press (1787)
The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
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The origins of freedom of speech and press are nearly alike, because critical utterances about the government, either written or spoken, were subject to punishment under English law. It did not matter whether what had been printed was true; government saw the very fact of the criticism as an evil, since it cast doubt on the integrity and reliability of public officers. Progress toward a truly free press, that is, one in which people could publish their views without fear of government reprisal, was halting, and in the mid-18th century the great English legal commentator, Sir William Blackstone, declared that although liberty of the press was essential to the nature of a free state, it could and should be bounded.
Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765)
Where blasphemous, immoral, treasonable, schismatical, seditious, or scandalous libels are punished by English lawthe liberty of the press, properly understood, is by no means infringed or violated. The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state; but this consists in laying no previous restraints upon publication, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freeman has undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity.
But what constituted "blasphemous, immoral, treasonable, schismatic, seditious or scandalous libels"? They were, in fact, whatever the government defined them to be, and in essence, any publication even mildly critical of government...
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FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
THE RIGHTS OF THE PRESS
SHOULD PRESS BE REALLY FREE?
A FREE PRESS– THE BACKBONE OF DEMOCRACY
JOURNALISM IN INDIA
“I would rather have a free Press, with all the dangers that may result from a wrong use of that freedom, than a suppressed or strangulated Press.” – J.L. Nehru
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I shall not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. -Jefferson
Freedom of the Press is the very foundation of and an essential condition for a successful Democracy. It is the backbone of Democracy. In India, the freedom of the Press has been guaranteed by the Constitution. The Press is supposed to be an active link between the government and the people in a democratic country. It investigates official lapses and makes the facts public. It is, in fact, a watch-dog of democracy. It keeps the government on its toes by exposing its various misdoings and acts as a true mirror of public opinion.
The people in a democratic country have a right to know things and this right is a part of the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression. Hence it is the duty of the Press to keep the people informed, educated and alert. The freedom of the Press does not, however, mean freedom to distort facts, freedom to blackmail people or freedom to indulge in character assassination or cheap sensationalism. The Press is meant to educate public opinion ; it is not meant to incite people to senseless violence. The press is not an enemy of the government ; it is supposed to help government efforts in creating a healthy climate in society. The press is not there to add to the people’s problems and spell misery and dissatisfaction ; it has to work to promote the common weal. The Press has to know its responsibilities. It has to ensure that its writings conform to the national objectives and do not run counter to them.
The Press in India, has by and large, been enjoying complete and unfettered freedom. But, at times, it seems that the Press does not play its part in a responsible manner. The freedom enjoyed by the Press is grossly misused. At times, a section of the Press is clearly committed to a line of thought and refuses to look at things objectively. It looks at things through the tinged glasses of prejudice and indulges in mudslinging and baseless criticism. Not only that, some papers openly promote communal hatred and create unnecessary tensions through baseless news and biased views.
There are some important power groups who start their own papers. These people have either enough money to those papers, periodicals and magazines or have their cells in the government to bag a big chunk of hefty advertisements and mint money. They create a permanent nexus with a particular group or party and go on toeing their line in their papers. They have no scruples or qualms of conscience to do their real duty. Their only duty is to serve their masters and misguide public thought. The government must evolve some mechanism to check all this and make the press accountable to the country in some way.
No one can argue or claim that the freedom of speech and expression is an absolute and unfettered right. No government worth the name can permit irresponsible writings, yellow journalism or slander. The Press should rise to the occasion and assure the government and the people that it would always act as the responsible and enlightened Fourth Estate and would refrain from misusing the freedom granted to it. The Press in India has always been playing a responsible role. In the pre-independence days, it was only the National Press that inculcated a spirit of freedom and sacrifice amongst the masses. It refused to be cowed down by the British threats. The Press must, once again, try to live up to its reputation and try to maintain its noble traditions. It must act as a watch-dog to keep a vigilant eye on the government. Men in power are sometimes likely to run amuck and trample the rights of the have- nots, under their feet. The press must, in such situations, expose the guilty to the full without fear or favour. A vigilant, fearless and responsible Press is an important pillar of strength in a democratic set up. The Press must not, therefore, fail in its duty. The government should also not misuse its powers to scuttle the growth of the Press. Self-restraint and self-discipline alone can contribute to the growth of a healthy Democracy in any country.
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