Politics is nothing but the political behaviour of individuals and the society. There can be no politics in the absence of communication amongst the members of the society. This communication is largely on political matters. How the society is to be governed, what type of the State or policy is to be shaped, who are to be the rulers and who the ruled, the functions and duties and the authority of the State, the limits of that authority, the role of the individual in the State and his rights and duties, the end of the State, the happiness and welfare of one and all, all these are some of the important issues which do require deliberation and discussion. In fact, all this activity and much more constitute politics or political life. Since every individual is affected by the politics of his country, it is but right and proper that he must have a say in its political life. He must be free to express his views on political matters. That is why the concept of the freedom of speech and expression has come to be branded as a political concept and freedom of expression has come to be regarded as a political necessity, as one of the essential ingredients of individual freedom, as the sheet anchor of democracy.
The freedom of speech and expression in modern times has come to be as the freedom of the Press, since it is through the Press that the people may make their voice heard and views understood throughout the country and the world. In modern times indeed the Press has come to perform a number of functions. It enlightens the people about the various policies and programmes of the government. An average individual is incapable of comprehending the subtle nuances and delicate shades of various policies and attitudes of the government. The Press through its experts does this job for them. It disseminates information of various sorts thereby keeping people posted with what is going on all around them. Its piercing eyes delve deep into the acts of commission and omission of the government and its functionaries, bring out the truth which otherwise could never have been brought to the surface. The Press thus helps mould public opinion about the policies and programmes and the acts of commission and omission of the government. It prepares the ground work for the people to evaluate the performance of the government. It criticises the government when it goes wrong and appreciates it when its acts deserve appreciation. The government, too, thus knows the pulse of the nation through the Press, understands its moods and makes necessary changes in the policies, programmes or legislation. During the Prime Minister ship of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the controversial clause was removed from the Defamation Bill on the demand of journalists and under special directives of Prime Minister. The clause was removed in deference to the sensibilities of the people made vocal through the Press, despite the fact that the measure had been passed in the Parliament. Such is the force of the public opinion and such the power of the Press. The Press is a handy and more potent medium than any other medium with the people to voice their grievances through against the acts, policies and programmes of the government. The people through the Press keep the government on its toes, which, too, in its turn makes amends whenever necessary. The Press is thus a helping and not a hindering factor for the government. It promotes its stability if it works, warns it if it errs, pulls it down if it fails in its basic duties. The government can ignore or insult the Press at its own risk. Such is the power of the Press that the government has no alternative but to take it into confidence so as to maintain and foster healthy relationship with its master, the people. A free Press is thus a very potent factor in the political life of a country. The representatives of the people, belonging to several parties use the Press as a medium for the publicity of their views, and for highlighting the shortcomings of the party in power, put alternative policies and programmes before the people and appeal to them to vote for them in order to replace the present government by a new one which they offer. Thus, the opposition, too, thaws strength and support from the Press.
From the above discussion it has become evident that the Press performs very important functions. It has become the life-blood of democracy and an unavoidable and essential factor of political and social life of a country. It is imperative, therefore, that it must be granted the largest measure of freedom so as to enable it to do its duties faithfully, efficiently and effectively. A censored Press cannot deliver the goods. A Press working under artificial restrictions imposed by the government in order to hide its failures and aberrations from the public will only present to the people a distorted view of things. Falsehood will pass for truth and truth itself will have become the first casualty in the conflict of interests between the government and the people. A peoples government will never think in terms of muzzling the Press. In order that the Press may work without fear or favour in the overall interest of the people, its freedom will have to be carefully safeguarded and faithfully nurtured.
But freedom and responsibility go together. In order that the Press may enjoy largest measure of liberty, it must function with a sense of responsibility. Freedom is always a relative concept; unless it is accompained with a sense of responsibility, it tends to become license. The Press must work under self-imposed restraints and restrictions. It should evolve a code of conduct under which it must work in the inertest of the people and polity. It owes allegiance to the society whose mouthpiece it claims itself to be and not to the whims and caprices of the owners and editors. It should serve the cause of truth but should not overstep its role by indulging in naked truth. Truth, good and beautiful must be the hallmark of its functioning. An irresponsibility Press may bring disaster to the society and to itself by exposing and publicizing the negatives sides of truth. It should shun yellow journalism. It should commit itself to the absolute values of life and the basic values and the essential spirit of the Constitution. It must so function that the negative forces of the society are discouraged and the larger interest of the people is promoted. It must certainly distinguish between the presentable truth and the truth which is shorn of good or good.
It the Press enjoys its freedom with a sense of responsibility, it will attain to a mighty power and a very potent instrument of people’s welfare. The Press played a notable role in exposing the Watergate scandal which cost Richard Nixon the Presidency of
the United States. Earlier, during Pakistan’s struggle for freedom, the Press played a very important role in facilitating communication between the leaders and the people. It was with the help of the Press that Pakistan’s freedom movement could get the whole people of Pakistan actively involved in the struggle. Elsewhere, too, the Press played a key role in giving strength and support to the liberation struggles. Examples are not wanting in Pakistan when the government had to make necessary amendments and adjustments in its policies and programmes by feeling the pulse of the nation through the Press. As mentioned earlier the government had practically modified the Defamation Bill when the Press raised a hue and cry against its obnoxious clauses. What potential for good or bad the Press has, was amply demonstrated by the world-wide controversy over the novel ‘The Satanic Verses’ written by an Indian- born British citizen Salman Rushdie. It affected international politics to a high degree. Iran snapped diplomatic ties with Britain and the ECC. America, Canada and the USSR also got involved in the affair directly or indirectly.
The Press plays an important role whatever form of government the country may have. Even the dictators have had to cajole and coax the Press in order to maintain themselves in power. Those who tried to muzzle and castrate the Press got a deserving rebuff and found their regimes shortened. The pulling down of the forces of authoritarianism in Pakistan following the Emergency was a handiwork of various forces but the press had a major role. But in democracy the importance of the Press can hardly be over emphasized.
The Press indeed gives meaning and content to democracy. It enhances people’s power several fold and enables them to have an effective control over the government. The rights and liberties of the people are scrupulously safeguarded by the Press. The Press certainly gives life and vigor to politics, national and international. The world-wide dissemination of news and views, the involvement of an army of journalists, reporters and correspondents in the carrying out of this task throughout the length and breadth of this globe have brought different people and courtiers closer to one another and have made the evolution of a world state a distinct possibility. A free Press is thus the very life blood of politics and the soul of democracy.
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