THE ROLE OF THE PRESS IN DEMOCRACY
The newspapers are like trumpets. War or peace, they continue to blow. In the present-day world, the newspapers have become almost as important as food and clothing. Millions of people all over the world eagerly wait the morning daily. There are many who cannot swallow their morning cup of tea without simultaneously glancing through the news of the world and the views of the wise in their favourite daily. For some people, paper-reading has become such a craze that they devote time to their darling daily even at the cost of many other precious things of life. This is because the news is written and views presented in such a fascinating way that once you have started reading them, it becomes impossible to leave before completing them.
Journalism came into being with the advent of the printing press. The first newspaper in the country was started by the East India Company during the time of Warren Hastings. The national press came into being much later. By now, it has made tremendous progress. Khushwant Singh, Kuldip Nayyar, Nihal Singh, Aran Shourie and Rahul Singh are now household names in the country. So also are the names of the ‘Hindustan Times’, “The Hindu’, ‘Statesman’, ‘Indian Express’, ‘Times of India’ and the like.
Little wonder then, that the press had come to possess a tremendous power and influence over the masses. They are capable of performing the dual function of formulating public opinion as well as voicing it. Newspapers have a mass appeal. They can be used as means of brain-washing large sections of society. The public can be incited and with the power of propaganda, people can be brought under the spell of frenzy where mob mentality prevails and individual judgment is drowned. Even good and intelligent people begin to take part in activities of which they might be otherwise ashamed of.
The free press has a sacred responsibility in a democratic society. Democracy has been described as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. In democracy, the people have the privilege of being ruled by the Government of their choice. People choose their representatives through elections. Free elections presuppose existence of freedom of speech and expression. Absence of free press tends to gag the opposition and paves the way for one-party role which ultimately leads to dictatorship. Free press can check the growth of corruption and misuse of power of those in authority. In democracy, a free press should function as a watchdog of the rights of the people. It can make national debates on important national issues. Free press is always vigilant and by investigative reporting it can and has been exposing the skeletons in the cupboards of government, opposition, unscrupulous members of the public and others. It can take the lid off from every scandal. It can, therefore, look after and promote the moral health of the nation.
A healthy and mature press can play an effective role in moulding the public opinion on the right lines and thus contribute to national integration, choice of right type of leadership and preservation of sound values. It can pave the way for communal and industrial peace and harmony. But cheap and sensational journalism can do serious harm to the national cause. It can bring about group conflicts, communalism and even communal riots. During the pre-partition days communal passions were aroused and aggravated beyond all proportion by the yellow Urdu press owned by the Hindu and Muslim communalists of the then Punjab. The responsibility for a great deal of blood which was shed during partition rests on the shoulders of these newspapers.
Therefore, control over the press is necessary to prevent its freedom from being misused. Mahatma Gandhi opined that there should be some control over the press. The restraint which the national press has been showing in recent years while dealing with the explosive and burning issues facing the country is really commendable. The Press Council of India is undoubtedly doing a good work in this direction.