It was in 1931 when Stanley Baldwin offered a sentiment of newspapers as having; “power without responsibility”. Although he meant it as anything but a compliment, it does provide a freeing context in which we can address the question on why free press is important. Journalists and all the other operators in press and media are generally on the outside of anything. They simply venture into places to give us a view of the happenings within and as such have the unique character of being free to deliver the truth to the public.
They are not politicians or shareholders, they are not tip-toeing about careful of upsetting things or at least they should not be. Their only concern is providing the truth for the general public. When they do their job right, they can in fact be viewed as the conscience of the people; loud, insistent, unrelenting and unbiased. The most recent example to offer up for upsetting journalism would be the publishing of the Panama Papers and just considering the revelations therein should be enough to convince anyone (but those implicated) of the importance of free press, but we will go a little further.
If all the above about the press is true, then in even simpler terms, the press and media is the public’s eyes and ears. They are how you become attuned to what is going on around you and therefore get enabled to participate. If you are unaware that there is a fire, how will you be triggered to run? So when a country possesses a free and functional press, they are getting a means whereby they can scout for information on everything from; the activities of governmental to business, academic, cultural, sports and other local activities.
A professional and free media concerned with national progression would therefore be an undeniable boon to the development of a healthy democracy. They would give you the necessary information to make ‘informed’decisions on; where to buy the best things, what hospitals offer the best treatments, where you can send your children to school, who to vote for and other important things to guarantee a quality life for yourself.
They would also force leaders in a country to make more public-oriented decisions, rather than focusing on wholly self-serving interests. A free press is vital for the random man on the street to exercise his voice, it beams a searchlight on corrupt practices, it educates, it empowers and it engenders conversations and participation in society.
Countries that do not insist upon free press and media will find themselves left way behind as the country’s leaders will have free reign to do what they wish. For this reason citizens ought to be as protective of their country’s media as it proves itself of immense help to them.