Walter Cronkite, a renowned television broadcaster, once said, “Freedom of press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” He uses the power of brevity here, less is more. In India, the phrase is somewhat agreed upon as an antiquated notion. The actions carried out state so; with the rate of journalists being shot every year on the rise, there’s not only a fall in the ethics or the rights of the citizen but also a sense of indication that signifies a fall of democracy, right in the face of it.
Freedom of press is like addressing the elephant in the room. Nobody wants to talk about it yet it is a subject you can debate on endlessly. What explains the countless murders of the journalists? Quite simply, the political pressure and the greed of the rich and the wrong-doers to retain power unlawfully. The pressure is so much that often the journalists are forced to digress from the truth and publish biased stories. This gives rise to yellow journalism.
Sometimes, the subterfuges are committed by governments and to retain a public image worthy of high regard, they choose to bury it and hide it from the law-abiding citizens, who have every right to information. Should the press then be forced to break through the confidential doors and leak the information? They are working for the citizens after all. Perhaps, this is where the debate blazes on.
Let us say, for example, there is a terrorist planning on attacking a country and the government has devised ways to stop him, albeit secretly. If we place more value on freedom of press, the newspapers can publish the story and make the plans public. What a perfect foil for the terrorist, eh? Imagine, what if the surgical strike had been planned for a while and the press had gotten their hands on the information and published it? The whole mission would have been a drudge and farcical in the face of it. So, the government security becomes the top priority here.
Citing a precedent set by the Pentagon Papers, it is one of the rare examples wherein freedom of press was rightfully upheld. Pentagon Papers was the name given to a highly confidential Department of Defence study of the U.S political and military involvement in the Vietnam War from 1945-67.
While the United States government painted the whole situation in the war as very satisfying, the reality was far from it; the situation was fairly disturbing enough to cause an unrest. Thousands of soldiers died and the study stated that there were many military miscalculations and myriad numbers of unflattering lies told by the politicians about the war.
The military analyst photocopied these reports and leaked them to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The former published a series of scathing articles revealing some damning secrets. The U.S Department of Justice filed a restraining order against further publication of the material, arguing that it would limit the President’s ability to guard national security. The U.S Supreme Court upheld the freedom of press and justified the publication of papers.
It was an espionage act but the press published the truth and set a new precedent of the responsibility to tell the truth even if it meant publishing classified information. In conclusion, whatever acts in the greater interests of the citizens should be justified and upheld.
Tom Swyers, an awarding-winning author from New York, explains the travails in an exclusive chat, “In the United States, there has always been a dynamic tension between freedom of press and the government’s interest in the safety and security of its citizens. Both the sides can appear to cross the line as to their respective roles. Hopefully, our system of checks and balances can correct any excesses but excesses can be a matter of opinion and opinions can touch political bias. In this dynamic relationship we must always remember that, as a citizen, it is always far easier to give up a freedom to a government than it is to get or win it back. This is especially true today in a world of increasingly invasive technology.”
In fairness, it is worthy to point out that the press, after all, is for the governed and not the governors.