The most important ingredient of democracy is the existence of free and fearless press. In a democracy, the press must enjoy complete freedom and should not be subjected to any restriction. The voice of the press is the voice of the people. Censoring the press means the suppression of people’s voice. So the very survival of democracy inevitably depends on the freedom of the press. But at the same time, the press must not fail to follow its code of conduct and misuse the freedom.
The press 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 programmes, 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 minimised even in a dictatorship, because a dictator also needs the press for reflecting his ideology and policies. A dictator uses the press to prop up his image by highlighting his achievements. But in this case the press gives very little feedback to the dictator.
Another crucial difference between the press in a democracy and the press in a dictatorship is that while the press in a democracy is free, frank and fearless, the press in a dictatorship is subservient to the whims and fancies of the dictator. It does not enjoy freedom of expression.
The primary duty of the press is objective reporting of the news and views m a calm and dispassionate manner. Sometimes certain newspapers indulge in ‘Yellow Journalism.” They give out biased and coloured news. Their aim is simply to indulge in sensationalism. Sometimes they also spread rumours. They go to the extent of indulging in character assassination, mudslinging and blackmailing. These activities are against journalistic ethics.
Some newspapers fan communal feelings among various sections of the People and spread communal hatred. In fact, some newspapers espouse the cause of only one community. They do not judge problems on their merits. They view problems from a communal angle. Such newspapers do disservice to the nation. On the other hand, some responsible newspapers 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.
In India, most of the newspapers are controlled by business magnates Such newspapers, therefore, promote the interest of the capitalists by given tainted news. They pay no heed even to the genuine problems of the worker^ farmers, artisans and other weaker sections of the people.
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 criticise the Government for its acts of omission and commission and pat its back for any worthwhile achievement. The press should not be scared of influential people. 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 a licence to defame anybody. It should not publish any views or support any movement which violates our Constitution or is against the territorial integrity and unity of the country.
The circulation of Indian dailies jumped 33% to over 7.86 crore during 2001-2005 even as global newspaper circulation increased 9.95% in the same period. Contrary to conventional wisdom, newspaper circulation is growing and new newspapers are being launched at a remarkable rate, the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN) said in a release on 6-02-2007. Daily newspaper titles surpassed 10,000 for the first time in histoiy, with India accounting for 1,834 dailies in 2005, up 22.8% from 1,493 dailies in 2001 according to World Press Trends.