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 by informing and educating the public. In many new emerging democracies, radio has become the way of how people are engaged in everyday life and made aware of what’s going on as it not as expensive and more affordable for below poverty countries. FM and community radio have been effective ways of promoting democracy by broadcasting local issues, election coverage, and reflecting ethnic and linguistic diversity. The internet can also play a very vital role in distributing information. Because the internet is relatively low costs and freedom from state control, the media can also help build peace and social consensus, which keeps democracy going in everyday life. Unfortunately, the media have sometimes fanned the flames of discord by taking sides, reinforcing prejudices, muddling the facts and peddling half-truths. Peace Journalism which is being promoted by various NGOs, strives to promote reconciliation through careful reportage that gives voice to all sides of a conflict and resists explanation for violence. Training and the establishment of journalists from opposite sides of conflict can interact with the other side, including other journalists representing divergent views have helped propagate peaceful journalism. The media can play a positive role in democracy only if there is an enabling environment that allows them to do so. They need the requisite skills for the kind of in depth reporting that a new democracy requires. There should also be mechanisms to ensure they are held accountable to the public and that ethical and professional standards are upheld. Media independence is guaranteed if media organizations are financially viable, free from intervention of media owners and the state, and operate in a competitive environment. The media should also be accessible to a wide number of people all across the land to be successful.
A truly democratic society requires citizen participation. If they do their jobs well, the media keep citizens engaged in the...