Today, 3 May 2020, is the World Press Freedom Day, we’re, once again, reminded of the importance of the Press, its service to society and humanity. We’re reminded of the importance of the freedom of the Press, its critical role in society and how society is or should be governed.
Similarly, we’re reminded, or we must be reminded, and hence to reflect deeply on not only the critical necessity of press freedom and its role in governing society but equally, the need for freedom of expression in society. For, press freedom is and can only be meaningful where freedom of expression is an inviolable social right; a virtue to behold.
Equally, we’re once again reminded of the symbiotic relationship that exist between the freedom of the press and the wider freedom of expression in society. If freedom of expression is severely restricted in society, or if it does not entirely exist, then press freedom is equally severely restricted or does not entirely exist.
It’s impossible to have a free press in a society that lacks freedom of expression. In a society where freedom of expression is a social taboo or sometimes a social crime; and where everyone is essentially policing on each other, to keep each other in check, and ensure there’s no freedom of expression. In such society, what passes as the press, is what serves, exclusively, the interests of the authority – those who rule such society.
The press should, ideally, act as a medium of communication between those who govern society and the governed. Therefore, the press carries the responsibility of and acts as an interlocutor in matters of societal governance. In this regard, freedom of the press is an indispensable requirement for the press to be able to monitor, report truthfully on those who govern and how they govern society.
The press, and moreover, freedom of the press, is important and serves to keep the governed informed on matters of governance; how they are governed by those they, if and where they do, entrust with the responsibility of governance.
It also helps the governed to be and keep informed and, ideally and hopefully, be able to make better and informed decisions not only on those who they choose and entrust with the responsibilities of governing them, but also in important areas and matters of personal life.
Press freedom is therefore an indispensable and critical element in societal governance, to help keep those who govern society in check. Because societal governance is too important to be left to the wisdom and expertise, and sometimes – in some parts of the world, to the erratic but potentially catastrophic whims of a few individuals or a single individual governing society.
Thomas Jefferson’s following statement underpins the critical importance of press freedom: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.“
While we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, today, 3rd May 2020, we must also be reminded of and reflect on Press falsehood.
We must remember and be conscious of the role the press, particularly a co-opted press, deep in the pockets of the establishment, and consequently in the service of the establishment – its master, plays in propagating falsehood in society.
To all victims of falsehood, let us all pray:
“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.” Hannah Arendt