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and democracy: Mutual bedfellows or political foes
Institute for Leadership Development
October 16, 2012
Free press is
a prerequisite of democracy. One cannot survive without the other,
without democracy there would be no free press and without the free
press there will be no democracy. They work hand in hand, the press
is the guardian of democracy, and the democratic situation controls
The former minister
of Tanzania, Babu explains the relationship of free press and democracy
as "A free press is the best guardian of people's democratic
rights. Ideally it should be owned by the people, by cooperatives,
trade unions, local popular authorities, or by a combination of
press technicians, journalists and private finances and democratically
controlled." (Babu 1992: 14).
definition it is noted that the main factor that constitutes a free
press is that it is free from government control. It should not
be a mouthpiece of the government but should have the ability to
report objectively and critically with the citizens in mind. However,
it cannot be controlled by the government but it is controlled by
democracy or the democratic situation.
defined as the rule by the people for the people (Swant, 2000:24).
Although it is based on majority as people rarely agree, the 4 elements
present in any democracy are active participation of citizens in
politics and civic life, a rule of law that applies to all citizens
and most importantly the political system of choosing and replacing
government through free and fair elections. This is the form of
democracy common in Africa where a constitution is drawn up to guarantee
the rights of citizens.
The term freedom of the press does not mean that the media stands
on its own and throws criticisms at other groups but instead it
means that the media assumes the role of the 'Fourth Estate
of the realm'. According to the New African editor Baffour
Ankomah (June 2008:11), the media or the press is embedded deep
inside the state, helping it to function as designed by the powers
that be. The powers that be are the elected government who would
have effected a constitution.
The media can
not act as the "fourth estate of the realm" without
the support of the other estates of the state such as the executive,
legislature and judiciary. The legislature should ensure that the
media are not constrained by laws that are opposed to a vibrant
and pluralistic public sphere. The judiciary also needs to interpret
laws in ways that are not dictated by loyalty to persons in government
but to the cause of democracy, civil liberties, and political freedoms.
The main features
of a democracy include a political system of competition of power
that is free and fair elections. The press should have the freedom
to be the watchdog against rigging and other political unfairness
and should be a commentator keeping the public informed. According
to Waldahl (2001), Zimbabwe had not engaged in an election where
the ruling party had strong opposition until the 2000 elections.
This saw the rise of the independent press which supported MDC leader
media gave a different view of the situation in Zimbabwe from what
was being published by state controlled press. The independent media's
support of the opposition party MDC created an oppositional voice
to the propaganda in the media making the elections more exciting
because for the first time after so many years there was strong
opposition the government. The independent papers were the Daily
News, Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent.
It is noted
that the media in Zimbabwe during any election plays a role of loyal
channels for a particular party or politicians enabling them to
exert control over contents of political messages. It is noted that
government controlled media were rooting for ZANU (PF) while the
emerging independent press were more inclined towards MDC. The press
in Zimbabwe has fallen victim to the power game between political
parties. Amidst all this confusion, the media has been impeding
on the progress of democracy by delaying and distorting information
to the public.
governments realise that freedom of the press has to be to a certain
extent, unlimited freedom of the press becomes a barricade to democracy.
Therefore are laws that were passed to reign in the freedom of the
press. In Zimbabwe, Emerson Munangagwa is reported to have said,
"Unrestricted [press] freedom would lead to disorder and anarchy
and would harm social and national interests", therefore laws
to Information and Protection of Privacy Act were passed and
most journalists were arrested in accordance to the law.
the argument above stresses that the relationship of freedom of
the press and democracy is interdependent, the two are not linear
but are intertwined, one cannot exist without the other. The requirements
of any democracy are the rule of law, elections and an informed
citizenry, and the press however cannot steer away from those requirements.
An unlimited freedom of the press can act as an obstruction to democracy.
In fulfilment of the role of the press as a fourth estate is that
it should not work in isolation but together with the other states
ensuring sustainable democracy.
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