GRI - November 2009
IF MEDIA WERE NOT FREE WOULD SEND SHIVER DOWN BACK OF LORD CHIEF JUSTICE
Wrapping sandwiches or ﬁsh and chips in that morning’s newspaper indicates the lack of importance many people give to the day’snews. True, “the best tings in life are free”, goes the maxim. But while news, be it in a newspaper, on radio or on the television, may befree or very cheap to the people who read, see or hear it, it is actually very expensive both in money terms and in the exertions andsometimes the lives of the journalists, photographers and other media people whose task it is to discover and report the news.This week 12 journalists were massacred in the Philippines. Why? They were covering the wife of a politician going to table hiscandidature for a forthcoming election, and the politician’s opponents did not like that. According to INSI (International News SafetyInstitute) 63 journalists and media staff have been killed at work this year, and well over 1000 in the last ten years. The record numberof journalist and media staff deaths was in 2007, with 145 killed.Most of these were deliberately murdered, either to stop them publishing information or as punishment for something they hadwritten (in the press) or said (on radio or TV).The media is the fourth estate of a civilised society. Like the other three – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – it has to betotally independent of the others if it is to do its job. And it has to be entirely honest, publishing the truth, irrespective of whether thathurts those responsible for shady dealings, fraud or any other crime.Its job is vital. It is to inform everyone – from the President and Prime Minister to the man in the street – of what is happening, whatis going to happen, and what has just happened.This information is vital to everyone, as everyone bases his or her actions on what is happening and what he/she thinks is going tohappen. This is as true of the Prime Minister and the Government as it is of business, trade and everyone’s daily life.“Knowledge is power”. And knowledge consists of two elements: the wisdom and information one has learned through education andthe experience of life, and the information one has of what is happening in one’s business circle, in the country and in the world. Thisinformation comes in many forms, from one’s friends and contacts, from an information network, if one is a big business, a politicalparty or a government, but principally from the media.Every politician starts the day by glancing over the newspapers and listening to the morning news on the radio, or if he is animportant politician or businessman, underlings will prepare for him a summary of that morning’s news. He has to know what ishappening and what is likely to happen in order that he can take the right decisions, be it about governing the country, about hisbusiness or, for the man in the street, about how to live his daily life.When there is a big earthquake miles away under the ocean and a tsunami is heading towards one’s country, those who listen to thenews can get away, while those who do not are going to be drowned and swept away.Similarly in other ﬁelds of life if the decision makers know what is going to happen, they can take correct decisions. If they do notknow, they make mistakes. They buy at the top of the market or fail to prepare to defend the country from some imminent danger.Being the fourth estate places a big responsibility on the shoulders of the media and its journalists. They have to maintain highstandards to be credible, reporting news truly and honestly. Its journalists must write or speak clearly and well. They must not practiseself-censorship for fear of what the authorities or others might do if they publish something.“Publish and be damned” is the motto of all self-respecting newspapers, news magazines and radio and TV programmes.This is not special pleading by a journalist or by the media. The importance of free and independent publications and radio and TVprogrammes was stressed by Britain’s Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, last week.