Published:  12:07 AM, 03 December 2019

Role of the media in advancing democracy

The Prime Minister of Malta has resigned in the wake of a crisis arising out of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent investigative journalist, in 2017. It is once more an indication of a couple of realities in our times. First, issues related to journalism can lead to huge crises, to the extent that they can force the fall of governments.

Second, just how serious the threats are to journalism around the world, in so very many ways, have once more been revealed by Galizia's murder. And Galizia was not the first of journalists to be murdered for revealing sordid realities.

Let us recap for a while. In recent times, a Nigerian journalist is in trouble in his country. A prominent journalist in Tanzania has just been taken into custody by the police.

Two years ago, another Tanzanian journalist simply vanished. In Egypt, journalists have been languishing in prison under the iron-fisted rule of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi. The world has clearly fallen silent on the issue of Jamal Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. As for conditions in Turkey, President Erdogan has gone after journalists with a vengeance, locking up journalists on spurious charges.

In Rwanda, journalists have either been silenced or permitted to speak if they stay away from revealing the truth about media repression. In Pakistan, the media are under surveillance by the country's army, despite Imran Khan's glib reassurances in Washington recently that the media in his country enjoy absolute freedom.

We in Bangladesh are happy that the law minister, on his recent visit to Geneva, assured people that the Digital Security Act is not aimed at suppressing the media. Even so, there are the concerns we have always had about the way in which the media are expected to carry out their responsibilities in this country.

We have observed that all too often, everyone urges the mass media in the country to play an objective role in presenting news before citizens by putting great emphasis on upholding the country's democratic spirit, constitutional trends and national development through objective journalism. No one disagrees with such propositions.

We duly share this view, for access to information and people's empowerment are two very interrelated notions that play a crucial role in strengthening the democratic process in a country, especially one that has had its democratic structure so rudely disturbed by the emergence of unconstitutional and anti-national forces in the aftermath of the tragedy of August-November 1975. The country was kept in darkness for a long period of twenty one years.

Journalists usually carry out their responsibilities through providing information about facts, which does not necessarily mean reporting about something or an action of the government but goes deeper as they emphasise providing power to the people so that they can be instrumental in a promotion of a democratic political process. People's participation in the process of governance through availing information from media no doubt deepens democracy.

Ensuring it requires freedom of the media as independence enables the calling of journalism to realise and act within its duties and responsibilities. In the very path of discharging their duties, journalists have to remain committed to non-partisanship and rule out obsequiousness of any sort. Nothing can be more dangerous for the media than journalists genuflecting in the face of intimidation, from any quarter.

Third world democracy is often condemned for not being able to uphold globally accepted norms. Among the factors cited is that the room for constructive criticism and thus freedom of expression, indeed of the media, shrinks only to accelerate the weakening process of democracy. Intolerance makes its way into every layer of society, and in this process, people's participation in democracy is reduced. One must not have any reservations about bearing these basic principles of democracy in mind.

Therefore, to sustain the rule of law and enhance the democratic spirit, one should have sufficient knowledge of one's rights and responsibilities. The more we struggle to deepen the roots of democracy the more we will need to develop in ourselves an attitude of broadening our views of the world we are part of.

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