Media Freedom Essay

Ripples and dominoes, that is the order of the world today… Everything is interconnected and interdependent, an incident anywhere in the world can have adverse consequences anywhere else, our economies, our social structure, the very ideas and beliefs we use to identify ourselves are part of a functional global village. And THAT, is the reason why, in our interconnected world, it isn’t diamonds and jewels that are most valuable… its ‘information.’ We seek information, awareness, and most importantly, a semblance of ‘truth’ about the things we face daily.

Luckily for us, we have a way that provides us all that, something we collectively call ‘the media’. But, unluckily, as with most things of value, it is prone to exploitation. By the marketers and PR managers working for the commercialist culture or even the governments that like to ‘control’ public viewpoint by being spoon-fed their own political or commercial agendas. To inform the consciences of millions of individuals and help shape their thinking can never really be a ‘neutral’ task.

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It requires a determination of media owners, editors and journalists to discharge their duties in a manner that balances commercial imperatives, human rights, social responsibility and national vision.

It is unfortunate and disheartening that our media is notorious for processing and filtering the actual truth in many events, creating a distorted reflection that condenses innuendo, gossip, lies, rumors, speculations and suspicions into a form of entertainment, character assassination, scandal or simply packaged as a commercial product that deceives us and we don’t ever even suspect. It’s ironic that all this is being done by the media which is fully aware of its constitutional responsibility as a guardian of democracy and watchdog of the people. In the 21st century, media has evolved into an institution with overwhelming power… the power to shape entire generations’ viewpoints. And thus is CRITICALLY important that it fully realizes the immense responsibility that comes with such power. Our country cannot afford the media operating against other community development institutions and ‘overruling’ them in issues of national importance.

Media should instead act as a watchdog for citizens by scrutinizing and reporting on political and economic excesses, and serve as a means for communication – and thus promoting social cohesion, social change, enlightenment and development. Editors and managers need to appreciate that they preside over an important national institution, whose main role and responsibility is to trace, collect and analyze information in the quest to achieve the public’s fundamental right to be educated and informed. In conclusion, media remains the most important tool of empowerment any nation can give its people, and also the deadliest weapon to be used against them… it is the people, in fact, who need to understand that the power is theirs, to understand for themselves and use it effectively, use the media as a platform of enlightenment and information, and not to merely succumb to subjugation to whatever is being shown on screen. (Mariya)

• The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. The role of media in a modern society is not only limited to reporting and analysing specific events, but journalists are also opinion builders in their own right. In this way, the media can contribute constructively to the propagation of all that is good and true, and to entrench the processes of democracy, debates, development, and enlightenment. • The constitutionally-entrenched freedom of the media challenges that today’s media to be responsible, protagonist of truth, protector of democracy and human rights, and promoter of peace, enlightenment, prosperity and development.

• The statement issued by the World Association of Newspapers during World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2005) says “media should be allowed to report freely and responsibly on issues that erode human rights. Failure to guarantee media freedom creates fertile ground for autocracy, with those in power refusing to be accountable and responsible”. • However, media freedom comes with rights and responsibilities. • Media freedom, like other constitutional rights, is only meaningful if it is contextualized within the broader national interests. In a country where accountability, respect for human rights, transparency and good governance are entrenched in the constitution, media should accept public scrutiny and constructive criticism. •

• Media is supposed to play a central role in the information society as an independent gatherer and disseminator of information. Unfortunately, this has not been happening. Its content is not determined by editorial integrity and credibility, but by market forces. It is no wonder that media content is more dominated by business and political advertisements and advertorials than balanced news, opinion pieces, editorials and reader’s views. •

• Our media is flooded with images that contribute to the collapse of morality, namely fraud, corruption, gossip, voyeurism, innuendo, sex, drugs, scandals, cheating, character assassination, failed relationships, hooliganism and murder. Simply put, what damages the credibility and integrity of the media institution are stories that “have no facts and add no value” towards community development, moral regeneration, non-racialism, nation-building, and African revival. (Abdurrehman)

Media, in its pursuit of gaining high ratings and profit has become so prone to arousing sensationalism that it has been seen to cross all bounds of sensitivity and awareness of the audience watching the content they present. Sensationalism is defined as the style of reporting news to public which involves use of fear, anger, excitement and crude thrill that is overtaken by the media to increase the viewer ship, ratings, subscriptions and lastly profits. In the past few decades it has increased and is being rigorously practiced by all the channels. There is a need for the media industry to ask itself a simple question.

How can the media, using its freedom and influence, contribute to the fight against social ills, contribute in building an informed citizenry, develop role models, and contribute to advance our search for stability, sustainable development and prosperity? Throughout the democratic world, media is being put under pressure to perform its duties in a manner harmonious with national interests, and with the humanistic aspirations of humankind. Media professor Tawana Kupe once said, “The freedom of the media should never be undermined by political power, economic imperatives or journalistic excesses, because when it is lost, everyone will be a loser.”

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