- Media freedom requires the protection of journalistic safety, independence, and integrity.
- A free press keeps citizens informed of the actions of their government, which allows them to safely critique their government and cast well-informed votes in free elections.
What is Media Freedom
Media freedom describes an environment that protects the independence and safety of journalists, prohibits government censorship of publications, and promotes transparency of government activity. The terms “independent journalism” and “free press” often signify the same ideal. A free press exists only when journalists feel safe to publish information without fear of an adverse economic, legal, or governmental response. Preserving the safety of individual journalists acts is the first line of defense in maintaining or creating a free media environment. Additionally, media freedom requires a legal restriction on the power of governments to silence or censor publications in any way. Government intrusions into the media must also remain minimal, if not nonexistent. Independent journalism provides an important independent channel of information between the elected officials and the citizens they represent. The ability for news outlets to provide citizens with reliable and unbiased facts and information, without government intrusion, serves a vital role in promoting responsible democratic government.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly issued its Universal Declaration of Human Rights and included important ideals of media freedom. Article 19 codifies the democratic ideal of media freedom for all nations stating a right to “hold opinions without interference” and to “impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”1 At the time 48 of the 58 U.N. member countries at the time adopted the Resolution and the U.N. Secretary General praised the free press system, calling it the “greatest ally in combating misinformation and disinformation.”2 However, media freedom today still remains an ideal that has not been put into active practice in many places throughout the world.
Media Freedom and Democracy
A free media serves as a platform for the free exchange of information and “a cornerstone”2 of a democratic society. The constraints, or lack thereof, on the media sheds light on the strength of a country’s working democracy. In a Democracy the ultimate power of government is invested in the people, and a free press aids citizens in exercising that power. It enables citizens the opportunity to stay informed about, investigate, and critique their government and to hold it accountable to the will of the people. Furthermore, media freedom can foster discussion between and among different parties within a political system, promote civic engagement, and create well-informed voters. Without fear of retribution or censorship, journalists are better able to keep voters informed of the activities of their government. Ideally, a free press serves as a check on the power of the government and better equips voters to make sound decisions in the free and fair elections that lay at the root of a democratic government.
1 “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations (United Nations). https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
2 “Free Press ‘a Cornerstone’ of Democratic Societies, Un Says | World Press Freedom Day | UN News,” United Nations (United Nations News, May 3, 2021), https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1091132.