English Insights

Independence in Journalism

The Press includes print media like newspapers and magazines. Freedom of press indicated an atmosphere in which media-professionals such as journalists, reporters, correspondents, editors and columnists can work and publish articles and news on what is true and facts without any single fear or any intimidation towards them. Freedom of press is a very important precondition of any democratic and free country or society in the world. Counting in most countries across the world, Freedom of Press is guaranteed under the constitution itself and should technically be carried out.

Newspaper and the media as a whole is an integral part of the public. It holds and exerts immense influence on people. Freedom of press is where newspapers can print news and views without having to be censored or barred by any authority. When the press starts enjoying freedom, it shows that the press can also publish their news and opinions on any issues without facing any restrictions and prohibitions. However this does not mean that this freedom can be used in an absolute and arbitrary method. Newspapers cannot publish whatever they wish, rather they should publish things that are constructive for the society or the country and should refrain from publishing any one sided propaganda or biased news and anything that can harm society or the state which is not the truth. Thereby the press in its entirety must realize the meaning of the scope of its freedom, otherwise that power given can turn into an instrument of great public harm and damage. The media is that effective!

The press also 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 programs, 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.

Of course, the role of the press cannot be minimized even in under a rule of dictatorship, because a dictator also needs the press for reflecting his ideologies and policies, without which, none of his/her policies would resonate within the public. A dictator uses the media to prop up his image by highlighting his achievements. But in this case the media gives very little feedback to the dictator. Another very crucial line between the media in a democracy and the media in a dictatorship is that while the media in a democracy is free, frank and fearless, the media in a dictatorship is compliant to the whims and fancies of the dictator. They do not enjoy the freedom of expression. The primary duty of the press is objective reporting of the news and views in a calm and dispassionate manner. We have also come to notice sometimes that certain newspapers keep indulging in ‘Yellow Journalism.” They give out biased and colored news. (Fake News) Their aim is simply to indulge in sensationalism. Most often they continue to spread rumors. They go to the extent of indulging in character assassination, mudslinging and blackmailing. These activities are completely against the ethics of a journalist.

In Sri Lanka for example, press freedom has been restrained by many individuals who feel that their illicit conducts and illegal operations are being revealed to the general public, hence the reason for many attacks against journalists such as Lasantha, Eknaligoda and so on and also on media institutions (Sirasa) in the past couple of decades. However, no proper solution has yet been brought about even with a new government in place following an era of sickening illicit operations.

I once read on the internet that newspapers should be called “The people’s parliament” and I do agree with that because that is what it is. Newspapers and journals give us a current picture of life, of the truth that is happening every moment and uncovers most matters which usually don’t see daylight. Today, the right to information is considered one of the most fundamental rights of a civilized society or country and the free flow of information is very critical for building a country which is corruption free, accountable and fully transparent. Newspapers or press also serve the people with providing accurate and fair information. Hence their freedom is necessary in order to keep people informed of the current affairs going on in and around the country or else people remain in the dark and in that case, confusion, corruption and abuse of power holds firm in the society.

When realizing the far reaching impact on the freedom of journalism and now it does pose a large challenge in abusing of power, corruption and monopoly or vested interests of any group, power- holders, despotic government, lying politicians or businessmen deny the media of its freedom and whenever the media does become a threat to their narrow party or personal interest, they attempt to stop its voice or even coerce individuals into letting things slide so as the corrupt individuals can prance around with their illicit activities. So, an undemocratic society, a despotic or tyrannical ruler, monopolized corporate, or dishonest politicians all create obstacles and barriers to this freedom of press because, what they see is a very destructive system to their uninterrupted misdeeds and illegal conducts.

The Independence of media is the representation of a proper, civilized and enlightened country. Only a country which actually believes in a true, pro-people government, can ensure freedom of press. However, there should be a governing body to ensure both the proper use of the given freedom and to also see that this freedom is not squandered. The media 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. A principle that needs to be followed to the core, especially during a time in which technology plays a large role in lives. Therefore the government must ensure freedom of press at the same time it should also ensure its proper and positive use for the country and the countrymen.

Some newspapers play out communal feelings among various sections of the People and spread communal hatred. In fact, some newspapers embrace the cause of only one community. They do not judge problems on the reality of the situation. They view problems from a general perspective. Such newspapers do disservice to the nation and creates unnecessary twaddle. Although, on the other hand, responsible and transparent media platforms exercise great restraint while reporting news about riots between two communities. They never give the identity of the community which started the riot. If there are any casualties, they do not give a community-wise break up lest this should trigger off a bigger riot.

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 be critical on the Government for its acts of omission and commission and sometimes pat its back for any worthwhile achievement. The press should not be scared of influential people rather strike them down if they approach to persuade. 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 ‘open season’ to defame anybody. It should not publish any views or support any movement which violates the country’s Constitution or anything against the territorial integrity and unity of the country. A free press 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. Only a free press can ensure people’s access to information and help to build a well-informed, transparent and accountable society. Press, for its part, as a conscientious body of the society, should not misuse its freedom.

The role of the press and consequences to its actions are endless. This is something a majority of citizens do not really understand. Journalism can create a revolution, it can make or break an entire society. It is a tool that can be used to construct a transparent and free society, although in the wrong hands it can be used as a weapon to destroy but ethically used Independence in Journalism which is carried out in the right method can cause positive change in a society!

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