Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Role of the Press in a Democracy

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the USA defined democracy as “the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” It is the government in which the people have full rights to participate in the exercise of public sovereignty. Such government fully represents the people. Democracy accepts political equality and opposes the view that a particular class should have political rights or a monopoly. Democracy is the rule of law and majority based on public opinion.
The word ‘press’ refers to the newspapers and the newspaper world. Newspaper means a periodical (regularly printed with some difference) printed magazine containing news of public interest and their comments. “ Freedom of newspapers” is essential for the success of democracy. Press is an integral part of democracy. It is called the fourth pillar of democracy.
Expression of thought is mentioned in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. In Article 19(1) of the Constitution, there is a special discussion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
This article has been interpreted as follows:- “All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peacefully and without arms, to form associations or unions, to move freely throughout the territory of India, to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India, to acquire, hold and dispose of property and to practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade or business”. There is no special provision of freedom for newspapers in the constitution, but the Article 19(1) is applicable to all citizens, including journalists.
It is the belief of the journalistic world that “the news should be sacred, but the comments should be free”, that is, the news should be given in the right and clear words, but there should be complete freedom to comment on it. In a democracy, newspapers have to play the role of an enlightened reviewer. In the case of the opposition being very weak, it has to do the work of strong opposition, too. Newspapers have to work for the public interest. For the success of democracy, free, alert, fearless and impartial newspapers are of prime importance.
The First Press Commission (1952-54) has said that ‘opportunities should be given to study the different points of view of the people so that there can be exchange of views in public affairs without any hindrance or pressure’. Mahatma Gandhi has given three objectives of newspapers:- (1) To understand and express the will or views of the public, (2) to create a desirable feeling among the public, and (3) To Boldly reveal defects and errors.
According to Lokmanya Tilak, the aim of the press was to instill the mantra of awakening in the public and to develop the spirit of honesty and unity. He had said that “we write so that the readers can understand our thoughts, know our aspirations and develop in them a feeling like ours, so that people start opposing the British like us. People are the Parliament which works continuously and does not prorogue.”
Knowing the power of newspapers, Akbar Allahabadi, the great journalist wrote:- “Khincho Na Kamanon Ko, Na Talwar Nilalo,
Jab Top Mukabil Ho, To Akhbar Nikalo”.
With regard to the press, the statutory status of the United States is different from that of other nations. In the first amendment of the US Constitution, a provision was made for the freedom of the press so that it could play its role in a democracy uninterruptedly. The official power to censor the press was abolished so that it was free to censor the government. The press was protected so that it could know the secret of the government and disseminate it to the public.
During the British rule in Bharat, many ordinances were issued to silence the press, but their results were reversed. The roots of governance got uprooted and the movement for ‘Swarajya’ kept gaining momentum. The Revolt of 1857, the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1920, the Champaran Movement of 1917, Bardoli Peasant Movement of 1928, the Salt Satyagraha Movement of 1930-31 and the Quit India Movement of 1942 are the testimony to the fact that repression has always been costly for the ruthless rulers.
Even in independent Bharat, when emergency was declared in 1975, censorship was imposed on newspapers. Its result is well known. The Congress government collapsed in the general elections. In 1984, the Press Bill was passed hurriedly by the Congress government in Bihar, whose sole aim was to silence the press. After the nationwide agitation in protest against this, eventually the Bill not only had to be withdrawn, but the then Chief Minister Dr. Jagannath Mishra had to lose his throne. The question arises from the freedom of the press that whose freedom? It does not mean the freedom of the owners of the newspaper. It is the freedom of the editor and the journalist to write impartially.
First Press Commission and the Second Press Commission (1982) had made several recommendations to systemize the press world in India. One important recommendation was the separation of Newspaper industry from other industries and commercial interests. No newspaper should be fully owned by other industries.
There should be appointment of board of trusty between Editors and proprietors of the newspapers. But no steps have been taken to implement many of the recommendations of the Commission.
Journalism is closely related to mass communication, which means mass information. It is the widespread dissemination of information, ideas and entertainment material through the medium of communication. These mediums include Akashvani, Doordarshan, TV channels, motion pictures, social media, newspapers, other publications and advertisements. Traditional mediums such as folk dance, drama, the dance of puppets etc. also fall in this category. Mass communication refers to the simultaneous transmission of information, ideas, experiences and entertainment material to a large number of readers, listeners and audiences through small and large media.
The land of India has been a vast laboratory of mass communication and journalism. The country has given the best messengers to the world, who have shown the path of righteousness, nationality, equality, humanity, peace and non-violence. As a result of its rich tradition and collective experience, India has been able to solve many complex internal as well as external challenges.
The Indian press was the torch bearer in the pre-independence struggles. It successfully acted as a catalyst in solving serious problems even after independence.
In its struggling journey, it fell many times, stood up and then fought fiercely to protect the self-respect of the nation. It is marching forward with advanced technology and new spirit to safeguard democracy as well as the rights of the people.
Er. Prabhat Kishore
(Author is a technocrat and educationist. He studied
Journalism and Mass Communication at Patna University)

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