Liberty of thought or expression is the greatest right of a man living in a civilized society. The society or the nation which does not grant this right cannot claim to be civilized. Every man should have the right to think for himself and to express freely what he thinks. That is the only way to ensure human advancement.

Right of the freedom of expression

India emerged as a free, united and democratic nations on August 15, 1947 and she adopted her new constitution in 1950 claiming to be a Republic. As it is in a democracy, our National Government granted freedom to the press on principle. But the question arises. “Can the press be completely free ?” The answer cannot be in the affirmative even from the lips of the greatest democrat. Liberty of thought may be complete but liberty or expressing that thought cannot be complete, is it subject to some necessary limitations. There will be complete confusion and chaos in the country or in the world if everybody is allowed to express or to publish freely and frankly what he or she thinks. Freedom, of any kind without certain restrictions and limitations, takes the shape of vulgarity and pollutes the moral atmosphere of the society because this freedom, when granted in excess, gives every chance to human being to indulge in vituperation and mudslinging.

Democracy and the freedom of the press

The freedom of the press is an asset to a democracy and the greatest cause of worry to the ruling party in a democracy. This fundamental right has often been denied to the press. During the civil war in England in the 17th century, the various parliamentarians intended to bring the press under some restrictions. John Milton raised his voice against this censorship and expressed his vehement protest in his monumental book, “Aeropygatica”. The English Epic poet strongly advocated the cause of unlicensed printing. He asserted, “Give me the liberty to know, to think, to believe, and to utter freely, according to conscience, above all other liberties.”

In India, the press has to fight vigorously to have this right. The story of this long fight dates back to 1780 when Warren Hastings had banned the first Indian paper “Hickey’s Bengal Gazette”. The Government censorship of papers continued to be powerful till 1835 when Lord Metcalfe made the Indian press free and paved the way for the founding of some of the great Indian papers like, “The times of India”, “The Pioneer”, “The Madras Mail”, “The Hindu” and “The Statesman”. The interference by the State persisted. All the time of the partition of Bengal, and during the long movement for Indian independence, the British Government behaved with the press severely and gagged it.. The worst form of the regimentation of the press was seen in Germany of Hitler and in Italy of Mussolini. In Russia, the press is not free, though Pravda, the Russian paper, is said to have the largest circulation in the world.

The responsibility of the press

The freedom of the press is the greatest sign of a highly cultured and civilized society or nation. But this sacred privilege needs great tact and patience to use it properly. Man suffers from psychological weakness. He is a victim of passing prejudices Newspapers play in the hands of the persons who have their own likes and dislikes. Thus the news papers cannot be looked upon as the true mirrors of public opinion. They are generally the mouth-piece of political groups and parties. This favour of parties and groups is Dangerous to the progress of human society. When the press is to favour a particular party or group, the truth is colored and distorted. Sometimes unhealthy rivalries and offensive controversies spring up among newspapers of account on their attachment to certain political groups. The results is that the entire atmosphere of a country is polluted and poisoned. It happens only when the press is exploited or employed as a means of propaganda, and not as a means of expressing public opinion.

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