Democracy is not only a form of government but also a way of life. Defined by Abraham Lincoln as the government of people, for the people and by the people, it is a system in which the sovereignty lies in the hands of the people as their elected representatives’ rule and run the country. Articles 19-22 of our Constitution give to the citizens the Right to Freedom as one of the Fundamental Rights.
The right to freedom of expression enshrined therein gives the media not only a primary role but also a paramount responsibility of expressing public opinion through a written word. The media has been made the essential instrument for ensuring openness in society in an attempt to polish, develop and civilize it by the process of analysis, discussion and synthesis.
The role of media in a democracy assumes even greater significance when we recognize the fact that in a society where an overwhelming majority of people are silent listeners, to access to a forum that constantly reaches others has to be viewed as a trust on their behalf for their progress and prosperity.
The power of the media has been recognised since many centuries. This is evident from the fact that there have been attempts to control it from the time of British rule over India. The first Indian newspaper-Hickey’s Bengal Gazette of 1781 was banned by Warren Hastings. Fearing that the press may present his intrigues to the public, the Governor-General imposed government censorship on Indian papers which continued strictly till 1835 when Lord Metcalf brought some liberation. In the year 1788 Warren Hastings was impeached by the British Parliament under the advocacy of famous political scientist and writer Edmund Burke.
Hastings was acquitted in the impeachment because the judges were British and the sufferers at the hand of Hastings were Indians the fact that Hastings was morally depraved and against the freedom of the press highlights the fact that the media has the power to challenge and expose the mightiest and they are afraid of it. History tells us that State interference with the press did not disappear at any stage of the British rule. During the period of partition of Bengal and Boycott and Swedish Movements there were severe restrictions on the media.
The oppression of the popular opinion and the restrictions on the media, in fact, go together. This is why the worst form of control of media was found in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
In India too, during the days of emergency in 1975-77, strict censorship was imposed on the media by the then government. A lot has been said and written about this step taken by the government. Without going into its details we analyse its bare facts. During emergency all fundamental rights of the citizen are taken away by the State. The declaration of emergency was followed by censorship of the press and other media to rule out the possibility of letting a popular opinion against the ruling party and government to be formed.
The power of media is unparalleled in a democracy and no political leaders accept it. But whosoever has tried to control it, the democratic forces have always understood the malaise intentions, taken it as a sign of weakness and removed such leaders and parties. It was not a coincidence that the Congress tasted its first ever defeat in elections in 1977, i.e. immediately after emergency and censorship of media. Democracy is in so much love with free media, that it does not forgive any attempt to control or curb it.
The print media has come a long way since the period of publication of periodic journals and newspapers to the modern sophisticated technology-based electronic media. But the role of media since inception till date has been the same, i.e. to expose the throes of contemporary period and its systems. The media is the mirror of society in a democratic country as it acts as a vital link between the governing and the governed.
As a matter of fact, a bold media is the most important pre¬requisite of a country with a democratic set up. Its importance is not altered with the fact whether the country is developed or developing. People elect their representatives, in a democracy, who make policies for a balanced socio-economic growth of the country. They also implement various policies for the benefit of the country. They also implement various policies for the benefit of the citizens. It is only through media that people come to know about the programmes of different political parties so that the candidates who are best suited to rule the country are elected. After the formation of governments and allocation of ministries, the media presents an assessment of working of all the ministries at various levels in their respective fields.
The ministries receive valuable feedback and the people’s aspirations which work as a future guidance for them to make necessary changes in their programmes wherever required. In a country like India where a large number of people are illiterate, live in extreme poverty and lack the wherewithal to voice their problems on some platform which can be taken cognizance of, media itself becomes the voice of the people.
The books, journals, magazines, newspapers come within the ambit of print media. As it enjoys a large leadership, the impact it creates on people’s minds has wide ramifications on the thoughts, views and actions of public as well as the authorities.
In each period there are certain books which are banned for some reasons like James Joyce’s Ulyssis, Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Tolima’s Lajpat. The authorities have to be cautious that the writer, carried away in his or her emotional veins may not hurt the sentiments of some section of people. Some bans are for political reasons also. It can be said that while a writer has external compulsions, he also has the duty to depict the true picture of contemporary society including its seamy side. The press is rightly honoured as the fourth estate in a democracy.
With the development of science and technology there has been a valuable addition in the range of media the electronic media which encompasses radio, TV, Internet, e-mail, videos, audios, pictures, stage shows, typescripts seem to have taken the centre-stage because of its spicy presentation.
It also has the resources of reaching every nook and corner of the globe and to cover the extraordinary events like scenes of war, violence, natural calamities, sports events, inauguration, etc. The professionals connected with this media like photographers, journalists have at times, to put their lives at stake.
The importance of media in a democracy cannot be exaggerated.
It has immense power to influence the minds of the people. As such, it has to shoulder the responsibility of presenting what is true, advocate what is necessary and enable the people to sift the essence from material. As an instrument of social change, economic progress and moral development it should uphold certain values and principles.