Press Freedom sustains democracy
Fahid Fayaz Darangay
Media is called the fourth pillar of democracy in a democratic country like India. It is believed that whenever a democratic government tries to be autocratic the media comes in the light to safeguard the interests of the citizens.
Freedom of the press is the most important wheel of democracy. Without a free press, a democracy cannot exist. In fact, the press is a great medium that conveys the truth to people. However, it cannot function fully if the press is not free.
People must have heard the saying about the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance. Thus, it is the media’s responsibility to remain vigil for people’s safety. Moreover, the freedom of people is monitored by the media. The press watches those in power to ensure they do not misuse it. In order to do this, freedom of the press is required.
The press has been given the responsibility of checking and balancing the administration and the government. Whenever there is a social evil lurking or corruption and oppression happens, the press is the first one to raise a voice.
Moreover, we trust the press to collect verify and disseminate the facts and figures which influence people’s decisions. If the press won’t have the liberty to do all this, the people will be in the dark.
Therefore, we see how if even any one of these liberties is take away from the press, the voiceless will lose their voice. Worse yet, if the press will be denied to do their job, the ones in power will run the country as per their will. This will result in uninformed citizens who will thus become powerless.
Moreover, we see how censorship of the press is nothing less than dictatorship. When the government imposes censorship on the press, it obviously means they are trying to hide something. A person only hides lies and not the truth. Thus, this way the citizens will be manipulated into thinking there is nothing wrong with the government. Subsequently, when there remains no agency to report the truth, the government will gain absolute power.
In short, freedom of the press is important for the smooth functioning of democracy. It is important for people to be socially aware of happenings in the world. One must have the power to criticize the government; it will keep the administration on their toes to do better for the country.
As we can conclude from the earlier statements, the press has a huge responsibility on their shoulders. They need to be vigilant and honest. Media has a powerful role to play in any form of government, whether democratic or totalitarian. The information they distribute helps in shaping the views of the public.
When you have such a power to influence the views of a whole public, then you must be even more responsible. In fact, the media is sometimes more powerful than the government. They have people’s trust and support. However, such a power given to any individual or agency is quite dangerous.
In other words, any media without restraints can be hazardous. As they have the power to showcase anything, they may report anything and twist the facts as per their agendas. They have the power to cause outrage amongst the people. A free press can easily manipulate the public’s opinion. This is why we need responsible journalism to refrain the media from reporting false facts which may harm the harmony and peace of a country.
What the World Press Freedom Index means
This freedom index is published annually since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states.
In 180 countries, the degree of freedom available to journalists is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire that is devised by the RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
About the Questionnaire
An online questionnaire has been developed by the RSF to compile the Index and it consists of 87 questions that are focussed on the below-mentioned parameters. It is translated into 20 languages including English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Indonesian, etc. The questionnaire targeted media professionals, lawyers, and sociologists who are asked to complete it.
Further, scores are calculated based on the responses of the experts selected by the RSF combined with the data including abuses and violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
The ranking of the participating countries is done based on some parameters which are:
1. Media independence
3. Media environment and self-censorship
4. Legislative framework
5. Transparency in the news
6. Quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information
India has dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis released on Tuesday. South Asia in general features poorly on the index, with Pakistan dropping three places to 145, and Bangladesh dropping one place to 151.
Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fourth year running. China at 177th position is just three places above North Korea, which is at 180th.
The official ranking organization RSF; Reporters Without Borders gives the reason of India slipping from the index:
With no killing of journalists in India in 2019, as against six in 2018, the security situation for the country’s media might seem, on the face of it, to have improved. However, there have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Ever since the general elections in the spring of 2019, won overwhelmingly by Bharatiya Janata Party, pressure on the media to toe the ‘nationalist line’ has increased.
Those who espouse Hindutva, the ideology that gave rise to Hindu nationalism, are trying to purge all manifestations of “anti-national” thought from the national debate. The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that annoy Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. Criminal prosecutions are meanwhile often used to gag journalists critical of the authorities, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which “sedition” is punishable by life imprisonment.
India’s score in this year’s World Press Freedom Index is heavily affected by the situation in Kashmir where, after rescinding the state’s autonomy, the federal government shut down fixed line and mobile Internet connections completely for several months, making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover what was happening in what has become a vast open prison.
(The author is currently pursuing Masters in Financial Economics from Madras School of Economics, Chennai)