Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and Bengali economist, once said, "Even famine can be prevented if the media is independent in a state…Besides, the proper practice of the media creates a bridge between the state and the people."
When the word 'democracy' is analysed etymologically, it simply means a system of government by the people. Abraham Lincoln, the former president of the United States, gave a popular definition of democracy as "a government of the people, by the people, for the people."
The media's job is to convey the people's message to the government neutrally and accurately. It is possible to easily measure the democratic situation of a country by verifying whether there is freedom of the media and whether the average citizen has freedom of thought or not.
Democracy is the most acceptable system of political organisation despite hundreds of limitations.
Democracy is one of the four basic principles of governance mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution of Bangladesh. In a democratic state, the people possess supreme power.
The public's opinion determines how the country will move forward. A democracy is a system of people's governance. Democracy is about protecting the fundamental rights of citizens. As a result, in a democracy, citizens have ample opportunities and freedom to develop their personalities.
Democracy and the media are closely linked to each other. Freedom of the press is essential for democracy.
Although he argued for a philosopher-king in The Republic, Plato also said, "Collective wisdom is much better than that of a philosopher-king."
If a state claims to be democratic, its media must have 100% freedom. The liberty of the media to criticise the government will have to be ensured by the government.
The media serves as an excellent gateway of information for people. Transparency of individuals or institutions can be ensured through criticism of the government, and the role of the media is paramount in doing that.
The media is the mirror of people's minds. Respect for the opinions of others is an essential condition of democracy. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right of the people.
Article 39 (1) of the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, and Article 39 (2) guarantees freedom of the press and the media. The more robust the media, the stronger the democracy.
Just as the proper practice of the media can protect democracy, real democracy can keep the media independent. The independent media is the best friend of any democratic government.
The media shows the government what is wrong and what is right. For this, the mass media are called the fourth organ or the fourth estate. Because of the courageous work of the media and journalists, information about scandals and corruption worldwide are made public.
The Watergate scandal, the Pentagon Papers, the Bofors scandal, etc., are all major crimes reported by journalists. Bangladeshi journalists played an important role in the fall of Bangladeshi dictator HM Ershad.
An opinion may hurt someone's personal feelings. He or she may feel angry. But the constitution of any democratic country does not say that no one can say or write anything about anyone because it hurts anyone's personal outlook. Where the rights to free expression is recognised, it may also be misused. However, no one can be deprived of their rights.
President Thomas Jefferson once said: "The will of the people is the only legitimate basis of any government, and our first goal should be to protect freedom of expression".
UN Secretary-General António Guterres uttered, "Without a free press, democracy cannot survive. Without freedom of expression, there is no freedom."
Now the question is, can independent and democratic institutions like the media remain unbiased?
Professor Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Edward S. Herman, a professor of finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, have shown the dark side of the media in a book called "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media."
They showed how the media brainwashes the public and creates madness that results in blood and genocide, all in the name of counter-terrorism and establishing peace.
During the First and Second World Wars, Germany and the United States engaged in media-driven propaganda against each other. The citizens of both the nations went into a frenzy consequently. The soldiers developed a mania for defending the country. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, the American public was made 'aware' of the necessity of attacking to defend the South Vietnamese people through the use of the media.
The world has always been divided into East-West or capitalist-socialist camps. And each side uses the media to broadcast the news. For example, there is conflict between Western media and Chinese and pro-China media reporting of China's 'authoritarian regime'.
It is hard to call the times we live in an age of independent and truthful media.
Nonetheless, press freedom is the cornerstone of a democracy. The more stable this pillar is, the more open the government will be. Before democracy can be achieved, freedom of the press and speech must all be guaranteed.
Former prime minister of Israel Shimon Peres had an interesting take on the media: "In many ways, the media today makes dictatorship impossible. But it also makes democracy intolerable."
Sohel Rana is an author, journalist and social worker.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.