On freedom of the press

By Chief K.Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

Two hundred years ago, a French political writer, Alexis de Tocqueville noted something that is so fundamental about freedom of the press.

“You can’t have real newspapers without democracy, and you can’t have democracy without newspapers,” he wrote.

A free press is the lifeblood of democracy just as much as democracy is the lifeblood of a free press. Simply put, the two depend on each other. One cannot survive without the answer, so to speak.

One of the key benefits of a free press in any given society is that it facilitates the free flow of ideas and consequently, an informed citizenry. The news media play a key critical role because it is a primary source through which people can get informed about issues that affect their daily lives.

In order to effectively fulfil their role, journalists need to work in an environment in which protections of a free press are guaranteed within the legal system.

Of course, journalists also have a responsibility to report issues as accurately and as truthfully as possible. Freedom of the press is not an accord for journalists to engage in slander.

A key responsibility for journalists is to keep people informed with information that is accurate and reported fairly.

It is generally agreed that news media have three important functions: a watchdog function,  a civic forum function and an agenda-setting function. In short, as the survey of journalists by the US based, the Committee of Concerned Journalists concluded:

“The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.”

But for journalism to base itself on fact and not simply opinion, it needs an operating environment that facilitates freedom for journalists to be able to dig the facts. In an ideal scenario, a journalist needs to feel 100 percent free to dig for information, verify, sort and determine what is of value to share with the public.

As Bill Keller, executive director of The New York Times put it: “a principal responsibility of journalism is applying judgment to information.

When the powerful in society choose to silence the press either through violence or repressive legal frameworks , the ultimate loser is society as a whole. After all, journalism’s first obligation is to tell the truth and their first loyalty is to citizens.  News media that are allowed to function in a free environment can increase the capacity of citizens to make an informed choices and independent judgments as well as keep government accountable to the people.

Arm-twisting the media and free speech may work for the powers that be in the short run, but fact of the matter is that trying to quash ideas in a society does not make them go away.

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