Freedom of the Press
In modern times the press is called upon to perform a variety of functions. Its main function is to serve news of all descriptions with a view to making us familiar with what is happening in the world. Besides that, it expresses views on various matters—political, social, economic, educational and even religious. It thus creates guides and gives shape to public opinion. By raising its powerful voice against any attempted invasion of people’s rights and liberties, it serves as the even powerful guardian of the people. It voices public demands. It ventilates public grievances. It is the champion of all good and noble causes. It exposes the social evils and suggests remedies. It plays also the role of an educator by bringing various branches of knowledge within the reach of its readers and making them conversant with the thought-currents of the world.
Such being the function of the press, it is obvious that it should be allowed a large measure of freedom. But this fundamental right has often been denied to the press. Usually restrictions are imposed on the press by governments.
Even the elected representatives of the people prefer curbing the freedom of press to have a free play in certain matters. Indian constitution guarantees a full freedom of Press and Indian papers have been enjoying freedom since independence. The first Indian news-paper; Hickey’s Bengal Gazette of 1781 was banned by Warren Hastings, and government censorships of Indian papers continued to be quite strict till 1835 when Lord Metcalfe liberated the Indian Press. State interference with the press did not disappear however, altogether. During the days of Bengal Partition and national movements, the British imposed severe restrictions on the Press. Even after independence strict restrictions were imposed by the Government during emergency days of 1975. Press is not completely free in other countries also. The Russian paper “Pravada” which is said to be having the largest circulation in the world does not enjoy full freedom. In dictatorship, the Press is slave to the Government, Journalists and editors write only to order. As such Press cannot discharge its primary function, viz., mirroring public opinion.
The Press enjoys freedom in a democracy. In England, Press is enjoying a large measure of freedom so they have attained a high level of journalism. The U.S.A. extends the greatest freedom to the press. ‘Freedom of speech and expression” is granted to every citizen by the constitution.
Now the question is, “Can the Press be completely free ?” The answer cannot be completely, yes. There will obviously be chaos in the world if everybody were allowed to say or publish whatever he thought or felt. Freedom of discussion cannot be allowed to degenerate into freedom of abuse.