The Press in a Democracy

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The Press in a Democratic Society
Jeffrey Richardson
November 8th, 2011

The Press in a Democratic Society
Since the recognition of the media in the later years of the 17th century, the role of the press as a forum for public conversation and debate has been leading developments of democratic societies. Today, despite the press throwing out propaganda for sleaze, sensationalism and superficiality, using the media as a watchdog and guardian, remains deeply engrained in a democratic society. The reality is that the media in new and restored democracy does not always live up to expectations to the public. They are restrained by stringent laws, monopolies, and sometimes physical force. Serious reporting is difficult to sustain in competitive media markets that put a premium on the shallow and sensational. The media are sometimes put in not so good situations and used in the battle between rival political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. In these cases, the media contribute to public cynicism and democratic decay. In many new democracies, the media have been able to assert their role in building and deepening democracy. Investigative reporting has led to the impeachment of presidents and the recognition of corrupt governments. This in most countries has made the media an effective and credible watchdog and its credibility among the followers has risen to the top. Investigative reporting has also helped officials to a respectable press and helped build a reputable culture of openness that has made elected officials more accountable. Training for reporters and documents that give reporters research tools have helped create a group of independent investigative journalists in several new and existing democracies. Democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should keep citizens engaged in the business of governance...