THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN A DEMOCRATIC FREE MARKET SOCIETY
The purpose of media in a democratic free market is usually to inform, educate and even entertain. The existence of a free press in a democracy is essential to maintain the rights of its citizens to freedom of speech and to access to certain information. The media is supposed to reflect what is happening around us.
It plays the important role of highlighting incidents that we need to focus on. It plays the role of a critic to bring to forefront those issues that we need to think upon. It serves as a guiding factor in laying down policies, as a mirror in reflecting the general opinion of the public, as an investigator in unearthing little known truths that are happening but should not be.
Freedom of speech or opinion has to be absolute in order to have any meaning. To curb it even a little is to deny the freedom totally. However, along with this right to freedom of speech comes the responsibility of maintaining certain journalistic ethics. In the name of freedom, you cannot defame any citizen or practice intrusive investigations into private lives. One cannot print the truth if it runs the risk of causing discontent or communal riots.
The journalist has to play his role very careful as a responsible citizen of the nation whose purpose is to present information in as objective a manner as he can and in complete accuracy. The present day pressures of presenting news as fast as possible with as much or as little information as is available makes it very difficult for the journalist to be objective in his reporting. He has to remember that his words fulfill the citizen’s right to know and that they use the information that he gives to form opinions or make decisions.
He even has to learn to suppress facts and not report them if he feels it will serve in the greater interest of the society. In short, a journalist has to keep in mind the following ethics: His reporting should be unbiased and balanced and objective, he must restrain from making unnecessary or unjustified comments and he must be fair and equitable in giving a hearing to all sides of a story.
By virtue of belonging to this free market, the media if it belongs to the non-public sector also has a purpose of making profit whether by direct dales or through advertising. This may at times cause a conflict between its profit making objective and its journalistic obligations.
Stories sell more if they are spiced up, are dramatic or entertaining. This often leads to unwarranted intrusion by the media into the lives of the rich, famous and even the not so famous. It leads to playing with the truth to make it sound dramatic, or focusing in a slanted manner to show only one view of a story. We have, in recent times, seen innocent ordinary lives being dragged on to television by the media, just to get high TRPs.
Take the case of the young rural lady whose husband had been released from a Pakistani jail and who had remarried fearing her first husband was dead. Most journalists to spike up their channel ratings mined her personal life dilemma as a reality show.
The juicier, the story, the more the readers or viewers the more the profit. The challenge facing the media is not to distort truth in pursuit of profit. The media should be free to express but with a social responsibility. This is the most important role’ of the media in a democratic free market society.