Know Your Freedom

Media and Democracy

The media and the system of government have a necessary relationship. In a democratic system, the free press operates as a fourth pillar to the three provided by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. The press connects citizens to the state, and vice-versa, a channel of communication that requires understanding and skill on either side for debate and dialogue to take place and for such interaction to establish democratic consensus.

The media have become the primary source of information for most people, making it necessary for them to understand how the media work, the interests behind them, as well as how to access and use them for civic purposes and/or to understand their immediate as well as the global environments. Accurate, fair and complete information is vital to the capacity to make the decisions on public matters that democracy requires of every citizen. Hence the need for the citizen to be sure that the media are doing their tasks well as serve as a major pillar of democratic polity or as an instrument of democratization.

The media also have a liberating and transforming power. They can provide people with the information and analysis that can enable them to change things, whether it be the political, economic and social structures, or themselves. On the other hand, the media can also hold back change by, among other means, denying people their right to information relevant to their lives, preventing them from addressing public issues with endless reports on crime and violence, celebrity and entertainment news, and trivia, or even by providing false, misleading and distorted information. Because of these powers, never has it been as crucial as today for those who receive, access, or use the media to be critical. The basis for the critical appreciation and understanding of the media are no less than the standards of the media themselves, among which are accuracy, relevance, and fairness.

If the media have the primary responsibility of being accurate and fair, the media-literate individual is called upon to know, understand, defend and practice his rights and duties in society, particularly his right to free expression and its responsible exercise through the media. As a critical imperative, he is equally aware of how that right applies to and should be exercised by the media organizations that have become the major sources of information all over the world.

Citizens need to understand what a free media provides for a democracy to grow and thrive. An understanding of democracy as an idea, a system of government or culture helps to appreciate the relationship between the two.

These developments in the media have a huge impact on the way people live, think and act, and on their capacity to hold opinions and to make those opinions known not only to each other, but to those who govern them. In many instances, these developments in the media have led to people acquiring enough knowledge and understanding not only to hold informed views on politics and society, but even to change the way they are governed, who govern them, and for what purpose. These are the very essentials of authentic freedom and democracy.

Further Readings:

NEXT: Journalism 101

Produced by the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility
Supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.

This module is free and open for anyone to access. Materials from this module can be used as long as proper credit is given.


What is Media Literacy?

Know Your Freedom

Journalism 101

Case Studies