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Updated: April 27, 2011 15:38 IST

Press for justice

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World Press Freedom Day
World Press Freedom Day

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) is committed to defending and promoting a free and independent press worldwide everyday, but particularly on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. This year's theme is the importance of a free press for democracy, whether emerging or well established. “Silence kills democracy…But a free press talks”.

A free press is at the very core of the right to free expression, providing a frontline defence for safeguarding access to knowledge and information as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A free press provides a window through which all other abuses of fundamental rights can be revealed. It affirms that to criticise, hold to account and call to justice those in power is the right of the many and not the few. Put simply, freedom of expression is the right that underpins all rights.

Text courtesy: WAN-IFRA

Exercising freedom

The press, termed as the fourth pillar of democracy, has contributed to the birth of many democratic and free nations. Military campaigns, trials and executions, and public announcements were part of the content of ‘Acta Diuna' which were the official reports brought out during the reign of Julius Caeser in 59.B.C. Wall posts, handwritten newsletter, news books and journals were the predecessors of newspapers which had played an important role in moulding public opinion in the renaissance Europe. From its early days, the press had to suffer censorship and suppression at the hands of the authorities. The acquittal of journalist John Peter Zenger's (New York Weekly Journal) who was charged for criticising the British government, paved way for American press freedom. Newspapers like Pennsylvania Journal and Maryland Gazette challenged the burdensome laws imposed by Britain in the colonies. The press was a crucial factor in the American and the French revolutions.

The Watergate Scandal

This is a landmark not only in the political history of the U.S., but in the history of journalism worldwide. Following the break-in at the Democratic Committee's office and the arrest of the five intruders, reporters Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post continued their investigation to uncover the full extent of the scandal. Their stories appeared on the front page of the Washington Post for several months. Further investigations followed leading to the resignation of President Nixon. The concept of whistle blowers gained popularity.

Vietnam War and Gulf War

These wars were the major turning points where the print and broadcast media played a decisive role that produced a shift in the public opinion and there by the American war policy. Impactive photographs like that of Nick Ut's showing a nine-year-old girl running naked on a road after being severely burned during a napalm attack (1972), have played a vital role in arousing anti-war sentiments.

August Coup

Television and radio played a major role in the defeat of the August Coup (coup against Gorbachev) which eventually resulted in the crumbling of the Soviet Russia, though the government had tried all means to issue strict censorship.Though social networking sites are increasingly claiming more space and time, the role played by the press in the recent upheavals in Arab countries is not of less importance.

In India

The history of press in India was a turbulent one from its inception. The press emerged as a powerful tool during the freedom movement in India. The Emergency in 1975 was a period when the press was put to test. While many succumbed to the absurd rules, newspapers like The Indian Express resisted the move and left the editorial section blank as a sign of protest.

Negative impact

The World war, civil wars and political conflicts worldwide saw the increased use of media for propaganda and continues even today for the cause of neo-colonial empires and authoritative regimes. Yellow Journalism, which relies on sensationalism and exaggeration of news to procure more profit, attained prominence with the Spanish-American war in 1898, and is till visibly in practise.

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