The invention of the art of printing in the fifteenth century was in many respects much more important than the invention of gun – powder. The latter had served only the strengthen the sinews of war, but the former helped to liberate the human mind by lighting up and widening its horizons as never before. The advent of the printing press meant that from that hour, the brain and not the arm was to rule the world -a revolutionary change in the fortunes of mankind.
The free propagation of the printed word not only helped to lift the clouds of ignorance, but also acted as a catalytic agent to promote freedom of inquiry and debate on an unprecedented scale. Perhaps the first revolution brought about by this new power was the reformation which shook the Roman Catholic church in the sixteenth century. As the immense capacity of the printed word to sway popular opinion began to make itself imposing censorship to make sure that no writing which tended to undermine temporal or spiritual authority was allowed to get into print. The tightening of censorship laws in England in 1643 provoked Milton to write Aeropagitica in defence of the freedom of the press as necessary for the discovery of truth through free inquiry and discussion.Gradually a free press came to be recognised as an essential attribute of parliamentary democracy -the fourth estate of the realm after the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporals and the Commons. Votaries of democracy have since hailed the freedom of the press as “the palladium of all civil, political and religious rights”, “the mother of all liberties and of our progress under liberty “, “the chosen guardian of freedom , strong sword-arm of justice , bright sunbeam of truth “.
The world has come a long way from way from the time Gutenberg first set type to paper. Epoch-making inventions and discoveries have taken palce in the sciences of communication and reproduction, adding immensely to the power of the press. But as its sphere of influence has widened, the concept of its freedom has been confused by the profound changes which have simultaneously taken place in the political, economic and social spheres all over the world. The socialist regimes which have come to power in the current century do not subscribe to the principle of the freedom of the press. They look upon a controlled press as the bed-rock of their political system. In parliamentry democracies, the increasing prices of the means of production and rising costs of news-collection have helped big business to secure control of the popular press abd very often the freedom of the press has become synonymous with the freedom of the owner to wax fat by pandering to sensationalism or to indulge in political and economic wire-pulling. Using insidious techniques, experts in the arts of propaganda and public relations have harnessed the press to furthering individual and party causes etc. In this growing welter of purposes and cross purposes, the concept of the freedom of the press has become rather clouded, so that many time we are constrained to ask ourselves. What exactly does freedom of the press connote in the contemporary context ?
While groping for an answer, we come up against a number of other questions. Does it means complete freedom from state control of any sort ? Does it signify the freedom of the owner-proprietor to use the press for its own mouthpiece? Does it connote the freedom of the functionary called the editor to the exclusion of everybody else? Is it the freedom of each individual working for the press? We can hardly fin the answer to these or other questions that may arise unless we bear in mind that there is no such thing as abstract freedom. Whether it is an individual’s freedom, a group’s freedom, a nation’s freedom or the freedom of the press, it always entails an obligation and is always accompanied by a responsibility. Now we may ask ourselves what is this responsibility of the press? And to whom it is accountable for the manner in which it discharges that function? Is it responsible to the state, to the owner or to someone else?
It cannot be gained said that the press is a primarily a medium of mass-communication. Therefore, obviously its true function is to inform the people and the measure of freedom its enjoys depends upon the way it discharge that function. T he people have a right to be informed freely and fully and for that the press is accountable neither to the state, nor to the proprietor, but to the people.
In the present age where almost everything is began commercialized, the press to has not escaped the contagion. There are those who hold that it in an industry like other, and must be run on sound business line to produce the maximum profit for the investors they do not see anything wrong with indulging in sensationalism and employing other modern technologies to increase circulation artificially. This in inevitably has the effect of destroying the freedom of the press and thus undermining its social responsibility. As its basic purpose is to inform the people, the press has to be treated more as a public institution than as an industry. It has definite social function to discharge. Its for most and highest purpose is to make available to the people information which is an unbiased, as accurate and as full as possible, so that the people should be able to judge and decide well. It can perform this duty in the right manner only when it seeks to justify its existence by popular approval only to the exclusion of every other consideration.
While a vigilant public is the custodian of the freedom of the press, its watch dog are those who man it, and they have an even greater responsibility in preserving and defending that freedom. Wielding the power of the press in the realm of public affairs, the journalist is apt to find his path strewn with hazards and temptations. He can steer clear of this only if he is imbued with the burning and uncompromising concern for truth, is courageous enough to risk displeasure of authority and strong enough to resist temptations. He has to be on his car always against influences which can be contaminate the free flow of news e.g. consideration of party or personal gain. He must not follow himself to become subservient to power, whether political, economic, social or of any other sort. He must seek to be studied, criticized and judged by his readership, but not neglect or compromise his personal integrity for the sake of popularity or circulation. All this presupposes rigorous self-regulation but there can be no let up here because the first source of a threat to the freedom of to discharge his function properly, they must have a balanced personality and a capacity and habit of a introspection. Elaborating the discipline to which he subjected himself as a journalist.
Truly speaking, all side control on the press where by political groups and parties, or by big money or by the state militates against and restricts its freedom. But perhaps, the most suffocating of these state-control . The freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution of parliamentary democracies so that if the power of the state ever comes in to conflict with the power of the press, the former should not be allowed to throttle the latter.
The state can exercise control over the press mainly in two ways, i.e. negatively through censorship, reduction of paper quotas, denial of advertisements, postal facilities etc., and secondly in a positive manner through giving liberal paper quotas, subsidies, advertising supports etc. Whichever of these numerous other forms it takes it cannot be harmful because prevents the press from coming put frankly and playing its rightful role in the economic and social transformation of the country.
The press can be used as a force on the side of the liberty and progress only if it is kept free of all restraints except those which it voluntarily accepts as an earnest of its responsibility to the reading public. Only in that state can it inform and educate the people along the right lines and breed that tolerance of thought and expression which is the hallmark of a democratic set-up.