Assess the claim that an uncensored press is

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Assess the claim that an uncensored press is dangerous.
A famous saying goes- ‘The ability to do great good rarely comes without some power to do
harm’, and the free press is no exception to this general rule. This definitely holds true in today’s
world. An uncensored press has made a lot of positive impacts in today’s society-it has given rise
to pluralism, it has made people aware on various issues and it has brought down totalitarian
regimes. However, the media has also shown its negative side by defaming public figures, by
instigating violence and endangering the justice system when left completely on its own. Thus,
an uncensored press can be dangerous as well as beneficial depending on various circumstances.
An uncensored press is more an advantage than a danger in democratic societies when it acts as a
human rights watchdog and a promoter of discussion. Firstly, it will expose wrongdoings of
people in power and make them accountable for the crimes they have committed. For example,
by exposing the war crimes committed by Sri Lankan forces during their offensive against the
Tamil Tigers, the media fuelled UN’s attempt to bring criminals to justice. Furthermore, the
international media has also been able to publicize corruption taking place in the Iraqi
administration which compelled the government to enforce strict laws regarding this national
issue. Dictator Fernando Marcos of Philipines was also ousted from power after media’s
revelation of his corrupt administration. An uncensored press will also promote dialogue and
discussion since it allows ideas to flow freely without any restrictions. By publishing a variety of
viewpoints, the media will promote pluralism and permit citizens to express their discontent
regarding the government or any other issue. When this is done, much needed changes are made.
The media’s coverage of discrimination of Dalits and women in rural areas has led many human
rights activists to campaign about these serious issues in an effort to change people’s mentality
towards women and Dalits.
By educating the public about various issues, an uncensored press will benefit the society in
various ways. Firstly, the press helps the citizens in keeping abreast with latest news and also
acts as a tool for the government to launch various public service campaigns. In 2005, when
many Nepalis died of epilepsy, the media played an integral role in providing awareness about
the disease through radio broadcasts and newspaper publications. Similarly, the media can play
an equally important role in disseminating information on drug abuse and HIV/AIDS which still
remain grave problems for our nation. For example, the act of expelling three HIV infected
children was given so much public scrutiny that social activists launched campaigns in rural
districts stressing that touching or talking with each other will not transmit this disease.
Furthermore, when a press does not provide authentic information to its citizens, it will trigger
false rumors, depriving the public of the truth. Many countries such as Iran and other Middle
East countries deny that Holocaust took place. Moreover, developed countries like US also
allege that global warming is just a farce and suppress news relating to climate change. As a
result, when the public is not aware of the past mistakes committed like the Holocaust and the
Tianamen Square Massacre; there is a possibility that such mistakes can be repeated again. In
addition, when coverage of information relating to poverty, global warming and hunger are
restricted, it will not augur well for the entire community since these issues will not be
addressed.
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However, an uncensored press is dangerous when it defames public figures and infringes
people’s right to privacy. An uncensored press tends to libel public figures thus violating Article
15 of UNHRD which states that ‘everyone has the right not to be defamed.’ When public figures
are libelled by the media, it will spoil people’s opinion of them, they will be scorned by the
public and in most cases, they will find their career being shattered by false accusations. Such
was the case when Richard Jewel was accused of masterminding the 1996 Olympic Games in
Atlanta which turned out to be a false accusation. Furthermore, to charge somebody with an
offense that they are not responsible for is a totally unjustified. An uncensored press will also
become a threat to corporations since it is more likely to reveal confidential information. Firstly,
when clandestine information of a product regarding the ingredients and processes of production
is leaked through the media, the other firms will attempt to manufacture the same product and
sell it at a cheaper price. Coca Cola, Apple and other corporations found themselves victims
when media published their operational plans and crucial product details. The press, if given too
much of freedom will also tend to give unnecessary attention to the private lives of celebrities.
By sensationalizing information on their affairs and relationships instead of their contribution to
their respective professions, it can ruin the life of a celebrity. Ashley Cole and Tiger Woods have
become the latest victims after the media published news articles on their alleged affairs with
various women. In fact, the level of attention given to such stories far outweighs the importance
they have for society.
An uncensored press can be disastrous when the so called hate speech provokes anger and
violence. Firstly, hate speech, in most cases, results in murder and genocide. The horrific
genocide that took place in Rwanda in the beginning of last decade resulted from Simon
Bikindi’s inflammatory Anti-Tutsi hate speech which heightened the already volatile tensions
between the ethnic groups. By publishing news articles demanding ‘Tutsi’s be exterminated’, he
encouraged thousands of native Hutu’s to go on a rampage against Tutsi’s. However, it ought to
also be noted that not all forms of hate speech should be censored. After all, in a democratic
society, everyone should have the right to express their opinions without any impediment. For
example, the assertion made by local papers in Arizona calling illegal Mexican immigrants
‘undocumented workers’ was not intended to instigate the minority Mexicans. In fact, it was just
an opinion made by several Native Americans on Mexicans living illegally in their country.
Thus, it is necessary that a media draws a line between comments that are meant to incite
violence and those that seem relatively innocuous.
The news coverage given by an uncensored press during a period of natural disaster will prove to
be dangerous and misleading. When a free press sensationalizes information on calamities such
as the outbreak of a virulent disease, it will lead to devastating panic. While covering
information on epidemics such as the swine flu or bird flu, the media tend to broadcast
information by giving an exaggerated picture rather than an accurate one. Media powerhouses in
India like Aaj Tak and NDTV are blatant examples of such practices. Similarly, the media also
hyped their reporting on cyclone Aila causing widespread panic among Bangladeshi citizens,
causing many of them flee to the coastal areas. In the end, the effect of the cyclone was very less
in comparison to the attention given by Medias of the approaching cyclone, warning the public
that the effects of the cyclone will be disastrous.
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There are also other instances when an uncensored press can be dangerous. Uncensored press
can be a threat when information relating to national security is concerned. Any leakage of
intelligence information can be costly to the state. In 1971, when New York Times published
classified ‘Pentagon Papers’, many US officials feared that it will give valuable information to
Al-Qaeda and help them expand their terrorist base in the United States. Moreover, the media’s
publication of photos showing naked children running away from soldiers and photos of its
offensive during the Vietnam War changed American attitudes towards the war as the public
appealed for an immediate cessation of violence. Furthermore, free press will also endanger the
justice system. The limelight given to high profile criminal cases can sway the jurors before the
legal arguments are even heard. The media’s attention to Kasab’s role in the Mumbai massacre
and the public outrage that followed may have prejudiced the jurors against Kasab, fearing that if
Kasab is not proven guilty, then it will lead to a widespread furor. In addition, the Indian
judiciary is facing a lot of pressure and threats from the victims of Bhopal disaster who want the
initiators of the disaster to be given a death penalty and not be shown any leniency. As a result of
this, the defendants might lose their right to a fair trial.
Thus, from the ideas expressed above we can conclude that the media should have a high degree
of freedom to publish things they wish to publish. But having said that, there should be some
form of regulation to monitor the publication of information since any libellous statement and
any derogatory remark against a particular group of people may spark a retaliatory action from
those accused. To sum up, we can say that an uncensored press can be dangerous when it invades
people’s right to privacy, when it libels public figures, when it endangers the judiciary and when
hate speeches are broadcasted. On the contrary, we can also assert that an uncensored press can
be an advantage since it educates the public and strengthens democracy by giving all citizens
their right to opine.
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