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Media Freedom

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  • 1. MEDIA FREEDOMMEDIA FREEDOM:- Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication andexpression through mediums including various electronic media and published materials. While suchfreedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state, its preservation maybe sought through constitutional or other legal protections. Freedom of the press underlies democracy and enhances freedom of expression. Pressfreedom is essential for the media to foster dialogue, challenge violations of human rights and the ruleof law, and expose corruption. Press freedom is a matter of life and death. Nowadays, almost everybody believes that the freedom of the media is an essentialprerequisite of a modern democracy. Yet, at the same time, many people are also convinced that themedia are turning democratic politics into a branch of show business. Yet, for the Enlightenmentphilosophers, the struggle for media freedom was fought to create the conditions for the participationof the common people in democratic politics. In their view, citizens of a democratic republic had todecide the issues of the day amongst themselves through public debate, including in print. In the late-eighteenth centuries, this participative form of media freedom was put into practice. With the help of afew assistants, revolutionary heroes such as Franklin or Marat were able to print their ownpublications on their own printing presses. Although the philosophers usually defended mediafreedom with political or moral arguments, the exercise of this fundamental right was made possibleby the widespread ownership of cheap wooden printing presses. A free press can only exist in a free society. A free society cannot flourish without a free andindependent press. Each is indispensable to the other. Freedom of press was guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting anestablishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for aredress of grievances." The framers of the Constitution resented the strict control their former rulershad over the dissemination of their ideas and the tools to spread those views. Sometimes freedom ofexpression in the press can cross moral and ethical boundaries, and when this happens it promptsdiscussion of the pros and cons of the First Amendment. The protection given to freedom of the press is one of the most unique provisions in the Bill ofRights because it protects the freedom of an institution as well as that of individuals.But the aim ofthat provision is clearly to secure the liberty of an entire society, not just that of the news media. Freedom of the press is important not to protect the rights of newspapers, reporters, radio andtelevision stations and the like but to protect the right of the people to have the information they needto make informed decisions about their government.
  • 2. And regardless of how poorly the press does its job, the principle of freedom of the presscannot be abandoned because without it, we have no real protection at all. Only an electorate that isinformed can make intelligent decisions. It is precisely when the free press is telling us what we don’twant to hear, when it is challenging government officials, exposing government misconduct andrefusing to be the unofficial mouthpiece of any government agency that the press stands most inneed of that constitutional protection. A press that is the house organ for the government doesn’t need it. A press that only reportsthe good news, that ignores the scandals and the corruption, that is the cheerleader for everymisadventure and stands silent when our liberties are threatened by the very government we createdto protect them has no need of such protection. It is only when the news media dares to speak truthto power and to reveal the truth about those who wield that power that it requires the umbrella ofconstitutional protection cast over it by the First Amendment. Certainly, the importance of a free press—even though it is often overlooked by free people—is understood by despots of every stripe. Control of the media is one of the first objectives of thosewho would control any society. For when you control the information on which a group of peoplebases its decisions, then you control, to a large extent, the nature of those decisions. A free andindependent news media is the indispensable ingredient for a free society. The constitutionalprotection given to a free press in the First Amendment recognizes that truth. Ultimately, the protection of the freedom of the press, like all our freedoms depends upon thevigilance and determination of each of us to preserve the liberties and freedoms of all of us. The UnitedNations General Assembly declared 3 May to be World Press Freedom Day toraise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and remind governments of their duty torespect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19 of the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights and marking the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, astatement of free press principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991.MISUSE OF MEDIA FREEDOM:- Freedom of mass media is the fundamental basis on which democracy and good governanceare pivoted. Freedom of expression is the concept of being able to transfer ideas or thoughts verballyor otherwise freely without censorship. Good governance and informed democratic participation depend on a free press. They alsodepend on diverse and pluralistic media that follow high professional and ethical standards ofaccuracy and inclusiveness, and that are not beholden to special private or political interests. Onlythe observance of high professional standards enables the media to hold or gain credibility with thepublic. A public well served by a highly professional and ethical press is a public that will see value inpress freedom. Thus, media responsibility and accountability in combination with press freedom lie at the heartof democratic processes. With this in mind, civil society media observatories have begun to monitormedia content and to critique media ownership and control.
  • 3. EXAMPLE OF MISUSE OF MEDIA FREEDOM:- We’ll take a recent example into account. I believe that respect and dignity of the Prophet ismighty and no one can harm him by such acts. The point we are ignoring here is the way the Prophetused to react to such actions. There are extremists in all religions. It is well-known that most of the non-Muslims also raisedobjection on the movie. I agree that there is a need to take notice of such acts and negative minds behind them, butthe protest should be peaceful. I am not fully convinced with the official stand of the US governmentthat this act was freedom of expression and that the government is not able to block that movie. I think considering the situation and sentiments of the Muslim world some serious andprecautionary steps should have been taken by the US administration. We are being taught that our world is a global village but, unfortunately, there is no law and setnorm for the protection and respect of different religions. It is true that religion is not an affair of the state in most parts of the world. But despiteliberalism, most of the believers of different religions are touchy about their faith. What is freedom ofexpression and what are its boundaries is a different debate. Today, it appears that the misuse of freedom of media expression will ultimately lead thecivilized world to chaos. All countries should come forward for peace. This is the only way to bring this world towardspeace and harmony. When the mass media are free, independent, responsible and accountable only then they cancontribute meaningfully to the life and liberty of the populations they serve. A free press that givesvoice to minorities and marginalized groups promotes dialogue and mutual understanding among thedifferent groups in society. Press freedom in combination with media professionalism and responsibility enables spaces inwhich to inform and be informed, to debate public-policy making and the way powerful public andprivate institutions are run. Together they enable alternative points of view and – ultimately – truth-telling in matters of public concern.MEDIA FREEDOM IN PAKISTAN:- TODAY, the media in Pakistan is largely free to write and show what it wants. This freedomhas been achieved mainly due to four factors firstly, the people`s support for a vibrant, fearless andfree media has been essential. Secondly, the journalist community has struggled for a free media over the past manydecades. The third factor is globalization and the media boom, and fourthly, technological innovations
  • 4. in the media field and the emergence of new information and communication technologies have beeninstrumental in helping the media in Pakistan achieve its present-day freedom. It can be argued that the efforts to curb media freedom following the Nov 3, 2007 emergencywere foiled by the above factors. New technologies including mobile phones and the Internet greatlyhelped in defeating the desperate moves to curb the media. The web and multiple platforms of thenew media provided alternatives to cable TV distribution networks for both the broadcast media andthe citizens/audience. However, though the media as an institution enjoys enormous power and influence, mediaorganizations are not charity houses they operate as businesses and have commercial interests.There is a natural tendency to indulge in corruption and malpractice when an institution enjoysabsolute power, particularly in the absence of a strong system of accountability. The broadcast media in Pakistan is in its infancy. It has come under criticism for the abuse ofpower. The increasing frequency of columns and letters to the editor in the print media by citizenscomplaining of the growing influence of biased elements in the broadcast media shows that citizensare concerned about the exploitation of free speech by the commercial broadcast media for personalgains. Some talk-show anchors have also been criticized for their partiality and lack of objectivity. Thegrowing concerns and reservations of the public about the broadcast media demonstrate that publicconfidence is eroding, which may lead to a trust deficit between the public and the broadcast media.Surprisingly, this debate is confined to the print media and there is hardly any discussion on thisserious issue in the broadcast media. It seems that the notions of media freedom and freedom of speech are being misunderstoodand misconstrued by the recently liberated broadcast media in Pakistan. British philosopher JohnStuart Mill underlined the need for free speech mainly for three reasons. He believed that freedom toread or write is an important element to expose and reveal the truth, to ensure self-development andself-fulfillment of citizens and to help ensure participation of the citizens in a democracy. The objective of media freedom can be realized only when public trust and confidence reposedin the media is respected and protected by the media itself by acting as a true watchdog, keeping aneye on the government on behalf of the public. The silent consent and mandate of the public to themedia grants the latter absolute power to inquire and question the government actions on thepeople`s behalf. The problem arises when the public mandate is breached and media power is abused. In thatcase public interest takes a backseat and personal motives for profits and gain are given priority.Ultimately, truth becomes the casualty at the hands of the `custodians` of public interest! The public has a right to know the truth, which is essential for the growth of a democraticsystem. This is possible only when a plurality of voices, objectivity and diversity of views are notcompromised on for the sake of commercial interests. The media sphere is in fact a public sphere. The success of this sphere depends on equal participation and inclusion of all voices insociety. The abuse of this sphere is the negation of the principles of free speech and democracy.
  • 5. Therefore, this sphere should not be misused for settling personal scores and achieving personalagendas. There is no dearth of exemplary journalists in the media landscape of Pakistan. They have notindulged in any practice which damaged the public interest. They are known for their integrity,honesty and commitment to telling the truth. They have preferred to live hand-to-mouth but neverviolated the public trust. On the other hand the growing trend in broadcast media for attracting anchors on heavyremunerations, anchors who possess skills of creating sensationalism and who spice news withhypothesis, is an example of how media channels are departing from objectivity and balancedreporting. Furthermore, the frequent switching of anchors from one channel to another mainly foreconomic gains in utter disregard of the basic ethos of the journalistic profession also supports theargument that broadcast media in Pakistan is headed for over-commercialization. The media as an institution and fourth estate is accountable to the public and responsible forits actions. Media practitioners should stop thinking they are above the law. Let the media introducean internal scheme of checks and balances. Undoubtedly, this is an uphill task.MEDIA FREEDOM IN PAKISTAN:- Accountability of the media is not possible under the disputed regulatory regime. Mediaorganizations and civil society should jointly constitute a commission for this task. The recent comingtogether of several leading TV channels to frame rules for terrorism coverage is a step in the rightdirection. This move may help purge the elements abusing the power of the media in violation of thepublic mandate. The constructive role of the media in highlighting and exposing social evils, corruption,injustice, oppression, persecutions and other plethora of problems besetting people can hardly beoverlooked and denied. The free, bold and impartial media help build an impressive and sound imagefor the country internationally. It is heartening to see media in Pakistan growing in power with eachpassing day, voicing the truth fearlessly and vociferously despite all odds. The media mirrors society. We have different newspapers and channels depicting what goaround in a forceful and meaningful manner. Now, with so much power at its disposal, we have hugeexpectations with the media to perform its effective role impartially, honestly, judiciously andconscientiously. Now, a huge responsibility lies on the media to act sensibly and wisely. Free media is essential for democracy. It fosters transparency and accountability, both ofwhich are prerequisites for a sustainable economic development. Media in Pakistan, after a long time,enjoy a considerable power and clout. Sometimes, it has been, regrettably, observed that some TVchannels and newspapers go overboard in their reporting the news, presenting hyperbolizedcoverage, which is against the journalistic norms. Their deplorable and pernicious propagandistcampaigns against democratic institutions are condemnable. In fact, what is being touted asextensive reporting is actually a travesty of sentiments. Greed for juicy reports and their irrationalhaste to be ahead in the ugliest of rat races is nothing but thoroughly unprofessional and venal
  • 6. journalism. Stuffing microphones down traumatized peoples throat are not mistakes; its sheerinsensitivity and selfishness. If this insensitivity and heartlessness is called media, then we dont need such media. We wanttrue media- the media which do not take unethical advantage of its freedom. Despite these negativeimpressions some of the channels and newspapers give us, we can safely say that thanks to media,hundreds of evils in Pakistan are now exposed. The downtrodden and oppressed people have foundan outlet in shape of media to raise their voice against injustice perpetrated against them and seekhelp. They just need to go nearby press club or have an access to any journalist to save themselvesfrom the clutches of cruelties and highhandedness. Now our government is also accountable to what it does in presence of powerful media havingvigilant eyes on its doings. Now, no corruption can go unchecked, unnoticed and unheeded thanks torobust media in Pakistan. Being the watchdog of society, media in Pakistan should act responsibly and avoid blowingtrivial issues out of proportion. The government is also urged not to get involved in petty war againstthe media by clamping down the channels; rather it should, with tolerance and broadmindedness,seek guidance from the media to make its performance better to best. Both our government and themedia are supposed to work in their respective parameters in the larger interest of Pakistan.ADVANTAGES OF MEDIA FREEDOM:-Government and Public Watchdog The Constitution was set up with a set of checks so that one branch of the government did not assume too much power. Giving freedom of the press in the First Amendment provided another check to government power. Kelly Keiderling, charge daffaires for the U.S. to Moldova, wrote: "Professional, responsible and independent news media are essential to developing a healthy democracy. Media are the publics eyes and ears." The Watergate scandal is the most famous case of the press bringing government excesses to light. The government is not the only group the press keeps honest. They also report on the doings of business leaders, academic leaders and other institutions.Provides a Level Playing Field Kiederling opines on where we would be without freedom of the press and states: "Leaders would rule the government, business, academic and other sectors with only their personal interests at stake, dismissive of the concerns of the broader population." Corruption would rule without freedom of the press as cases like Enron would go unnoticed, and people would lose their life savings while white collared criminals would walk away unscathed. The press provides a deterrent to business and political leaders intent on unscrupulous methods to further their causes.
  • 7. DISADVANTAGES OF MEDIA FREEDOM:-Sways Public Opinion There is no doubt that the press can sway public opinion depending on the way it is reported. This could be an advantage or a disadvantage. One blogger notes "the media is owned by wealthy business people who do have opinions and agendas of their own." The statement is without any basis and a personal opinion, but if the press did have an agenda, whether political or otherwise, how would civilians be able to discern this? The only check on the press is other press outlets, and if one had views that could sway public opinion in a way detrimental to the general good, it is hoped another press outlet could provide a more neutral standpoint.Freedom of Internet Press With the rise of social media and the Internet it has given rise to a new batch of citizen journalists. With blogs and many amateur news sites anyone can write something and it could be considered news. It is great that every day people now have more of a voice and tools to broadcast, but there are downsides to this phenomenon. Without editorship, blogs could disseminate harmful or incorrect information.