A free and democratic society cannot exist without a free and independent press. Whether it be traditional print and broadcast media, or newer formats including blogs, websites and other digital platforms, press freedom can keep the citizenry informed and can facilitate broad human communication. An unfettered press can expose corruption, report on the pros and cons of important issues, clarify laws and policies, and facilitate the exchange of ideas and public discussion.
This is important, because in a free society, the government derives its legitimacy from the electorate. And because informed voters are less easily led and more likely to hold their government to account when they cast their ballots.
Clearly, protection of press freedom reinforces freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive, and impart information, and allows individuals to make informed decisions. Despots the world over know this, and that is why they strive to keep a tight rein on the media, and on the journalists who dig up information that may harm the censors’ cause.
May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. This day of observance was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, to raise awareness of the importance of press freedom, and to remind people around the globe that in dozens of countries, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained, and even murdered. It is a day of support for media in danger of being censored or shut down, and a remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives while exercising their profession. And it is an admonition to governments everywhere, that they have a responsibility to protect press freedom and freedom of expression, a universally recognized human right.
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and one of the country’s most influential Founders, once wrote that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people,” he wrote, “the very first object should be to keep that right.”