Meaning of freedom of the press
JOHN Bowring, a poet, has paid tribute to the power of the press in these words:
But mightiest of the mighty means, / On which the arm of progress leans, / Man’s noblest mission to advance, / His woes assuage, his weal enhance, / His rights enforce, his wrongs redress, / Mightiest of the mighty is the press
With the growth of democracy and popular control of a government, the press is becoming more and more important. Public opinion is a power today.
We are aware of the vital connection between the press and the public opinion. Carlyle has called an able editor the ruler of the world because he has the power to persuade the people.
The press at times becomes the tool of public opinion, and at times its guide. The press plays many roles in a society but the greatest one is the formation of public opinion.
First, the average citizen in a state does not find any time to study any political, economic or social problem. In all difficult matters, he accepts the opinion that he finds ready-made in his favourite paper. For him, the conclusions arrived at by the paper are enough. Several years of devotion to one paper makes a man develop the attitude of a particular paper. In times of crises the public looks eagerly to newspapers for clear and definite views.
Secondly, where there is free press, we can easily see which way the popular feeling is running by consulting the press. The press reflects faithfully how the public feels about a particular matter.
Thirdly, the press guides and directs the public opinion in a subtle way. It presents the known facts in a new light. It puts fresh interpretations upon facts. It also makes conjectures about the facts which are not known.
Lastly, the press is a direct channel through which public opinion can freely express itself. The correspondence columns of a newspaper invite views from its reading public on all sorts of topics.
The editors of newspapers always give publicity to popular support or condemnation of a government measure. Public opinion can express itself only through the press or the platform. Of these two, the press is more effective and far- reaching.
The press can have a bad influence upon public opinion also. In every country, there is a yellow press catering to the vicious taste of the public for sensational news and views. They create disunity rather than unity among the public.
The press can do much to educate public opinion with respect to politics, social reforms, economic principles and even literary taste. Its responsibilities are great. If it is not free, it can hardly serve the cause of truth.
SALEEM NASIR MEERANI