The Press plays an important role, both in the affairs of the nation and the lives of the people. The power of the Press has been equaled to that of Parliament and the Judiciary. The Press can make or mar the fortunes of a political party or an individual politician. It can raise the ordinary individual to a high position for his act of bravery, honesty, and patriotism. Conversely, it can expose the misdeeds of a smuggler or corrupt politician. It can incite the public and put it on the warpath against the government. But it can also instill an appreciation of governmental achievements and projects. This is why, the Press, especially in a democratic set-up, has to follow certain norms and has to exercise objectivity and restraint in order to play a healthy and constructive role.
Newspapers form an important link with the outside world. They provide the common man information about important events like earthquake, air crash, dacoity, floods, results of an election, an outbreak of an epidemic. They also tell us about the weather, the sunrise, temperature on each day. They inform us about the various entertainment programmes like, films, drama, music concerts, etc. There are several other kinds of advertisements which are of use to the readers. The ‘Situations Vacant’ columns help the job-seekers. The ‘Matrimonial’ columns help anxious parents to find suitable matches for their sons and daughters. Sale and purchase of property is conducted through the newspapers. Thus, the newspapers occupy an important position in the lives of the people. We begin to feel uneasy if we do not get our newspaper on time and everyday.
One of the most important functions of newspapers is to report objectively all the national and international events. Reporting should be unbiased, for an untrue news item can do great harm by provoking the public. Similarly, unbalanced reporting of international events can cause unnecessary ill-feeling between the governments and the people of the two concerned countries. Since the newspapers are a powerful medium of propaganda, sometimes different political parties start and finance newspapers. Their motive is to protect their own ideology at the cost of objectivity. Few people are able to form their own judgments about the national issues and policies adopted by the government. Fewer still are capable to interpreting and analyzing the issues in order to see them in the right perspective. Newspapers perform these important tasks through editorials. They give opinions on different current affairs. Forming of public opinion is, therefore, an important function of the Press. Here, the newspaper must play an impartial role. There are cases of removal of editors from their posts when they tried to resist the management pressure, as the big business houses owning some of the national dailies, may have certain vested interests.
Newspapers also act as forums of public opinion. Each national daily and small newspaper devotes space to letters to the Editor. These letters highlight the problems being faced by people, the weaknesses of the law and order, lack of civic amenities and so on. Once a letter to the Editor is published, it attracts the attention of the relevant authorities. They try to remedy the wrong so that their name is not spoiled by adverse publicity.
Newspapers, in a democracy, perform a very important task of acting as a watchdog of people’s interests. They act as champions of democratic traditions. Through the lead articles, the newspapers present commentaries on policies and practices of the government and inform, arouse and mold public opinion. Specialists in particular fields, academicians and political scientists present in-depth studies in these lead articles which are by and large balanced, informed and fair. Pressmen, however, sometimes err. At times, it is done consciously when selfish motives may be behind publishing distorted news items. At other times, it may be done unconsciously when a story is filed by a reporter without verifying the facts. In such cases, the published reports constitute misinformation and can cause damage to the reputation of an individual or an institution. As it is inconceivable to curb the freedom of the Press, it should not report or publish any news item which runs counter to the freedom of the Press.