press freedom

press freedom
   A free press is widely regarded as one of the essential criteria of a democratic system. Writers from John Locke onwards have interpreted press freedom as basic to the right of an individual to get at the truth and as a prerequisite for better government. As Keane writes: ‘A free press increases the probability of prudent decisions by making publicly available comprehensive information about the world. And a free press casts a watchful eye over the bureaucracy, thus preventing the outbreak of nepotism between legislators and administrators’. In dictatorships such as South Africa in the days of apartheid, draconian powers were used to close down newspapers or prevent the publication of views unpalatable to the regime in power. In liberal democracies such as Britain, the publishing industry is free in the sense that newspapers are not owned or controlled by the government or one of its agencies. In as much as there exist restrictions on what can be published, these are aimed at preventing such things as defamation, racial incitement or other behaviour which could be harmful to the interests of individuals or groups. Any danger comes not from governmental interference, but from the concentration of ownership and the resultant limitations on the diversity of views available.
   Further reading: J. Keane, The Media and Democracy, Polity, 1961

Glossary of UK Government and Politics . 2013.

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