The press is a modern concept and modern folk can be said to be moulded by the press just as once he or she was said to have been made by his barber and the tailor. It means today his or her opinions, maybe even his philosophy, can be said to be shaped by the newspapers and magazines he or she reads. Thus we see the press has become so powerful that it has come to be called the fourth estate.
Arthur Miller called the newspaper ‘the mirror of the world’ because it reflects the various happenings in different parts of the world. Humanity cannot afford to be ignorant about what is happening around the world.
Though he or she may get the news hourly through the radio today, the radio cannot be as comprehensive as the newspaper. The newspaper covers a very broad spectrum of news so as to cater to the individual needs and taste.
The democratic system rests upon the assumption that the citizen has access to a wide range of news and views. Only then can he or she form independent opinions on many important things like the foreign policy of his or her government. Ultimately only this can ensure that his vote is based on fair judgment rather than determined by the coercion implicit in being forced to read and hear only the official viewpoint.
Much more than the news, it is the views that are more important. A good newspaper interprets, comments and criticises about many things that are happening. Some of the dailies are so respected that to quote from them is like quoting from the Bible. The ‘leaders’ as they are called, educate the public on vital issues and present them in a nutshell as they should be. Thus they save the reader’s time and also help mould his or her opinion.
For instance, a good newspaper may weigh the comparative merits of a candidate for an election and thus helps the voter.
Because the newspaper is so powerful governments are afraid of it. Naturally therefore governments, given the chance, would like to control the paper. They bring forth banning orders such that the press cannot publish certain things. The press is banned from releasing certain news and thus pressmen are prohibited from being present.
The news in the paper may be highly censored so that what the government feels is detrimental to its existence is not allowed to go into print. Certain governments have their own news agencies through which alone the press can get the news. This is the rule in the dictatorial countries and so a curtain is drawn over the window as it were. Except in really democratic countries, this control of the press is a matter of routine.
The press as we have seen is so powerful that various political parties in a country run their own
newspapers. In England, for instance, there is the labour press as well as the liberal press. In communistic countries, the party controls the press, so that no other wind except that of the party is allowed to blow. The idea behind is quite obvious. Each party wants to propagate and broadcast its views through its paper.
Killing the liberal growth of ideas
The control of the press by the government though it may be desirable in times of emergency, is not so viable in normal times. The control will kill the liberal growth of ideas and people will cease to grow.
Just as the free air is desirable to keep a people healthy, today a free press is much more important. A free and fearless press can expose individuals and groups when they err. They may even chastise erring officials and criticise the shallowness of certain government actions or policies. They may suggest a line of action and put forth proposals in schemes and projects of national importance. In short the free press can act as an accelerator or sometimes as a brake.
Provided the press does not inflame the feelings of the people as to cause upheavals and does not write libel, the freedom of the press will have to be nourished and cherished.