Media and Democracy

 A democratic system is successful only when there is extensive participation by the masses, which is not possible without people getting informed about various issues. Therefore, the media plays a vital role in a healthy democracy.

Press Freedom 

Mahatma Gandhi had said “Freedom of press is a precious privilege that no country can forgo.” In India, freedom of press is implied from the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. Article 19(1)(a) says that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. But this right is subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2).

Role of media in a Democracy

Ideally, the media is the voice of the citizens, it is said to be "voice of the voiceless". A democracy cannot function properly without free press. It acts as a bridge between the government and the citizens. It is the fourth pillar of democracy. It exposes corruption, scandals, maladministration, policy failures and promotes government transparency, accountability, & public scrutiny. 

The Right to Information Act (2005) is vital for the press in India to promote transparency. Press uses RTI as a tool to strengthen democracy and to update the citizens about implementation of the government schemes/policies and expose its loopholes. 

A healthy functioning democracy is established when the voters make informed choices and this is based on the quality of information that they receive. The Press is the main source of news and information. Information disseminated by the Press impacts and shapes the public opinion.

Democracy cannot function without public participation. People have the freedom to express their ideas, opinions, suggestions, and criticism using various media platforms. Public feedback of any policy or law reaches the government through the media. Press acts as a catalyst for democracy and development, making public participation meaningful. Press also provides a platform for public debate.

Citizens can participate in a democracy only when they are fully aware of their rights and duties. Press plays a major role in spreading awareness among the masses about fundamental rights of the citizens ,government schemes, and campaigns . The press has played a significant role in educating the rural masses through newspapers in regional languages , radio, television etc.

Challenges faced by Media in a Democracy

Press Censorship is a major challenge to freedom of press. Press censorship by political authority is an attack on free speech. For example, During the Emergency(1975) Indian media was heavily censored and it was known as the “dark period of democracy.” The Indian Express and The Statesman protested against the censorship by leaving their editorial pages blank.

Paid news hinders unbiased reporting and leads to favouritism. It diverts the coverage of real issues and suppresses information. This produces uninformed or misinformed citizens in a democracy. Corporate and political influence can also stop a particular media organization from functioning freely.  

“A free press is one of the pillars of democracy” said Nelson Mandela. A free and independent press is integral to the process of democratisation and good governance.  Ideally, the purpose of the press in a democracy is to keep in the public spotlight every decision that the government makes.  Press plays its role by reporting/informing, spreading awareness, ensuring accountability of the government, and providing a platform for public debate.

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