The invention of printing is an epoch making achievement in the history of human civilization. The modern age owes three fourths of its progress to printing. It has brought many blessings in its train and one of these is the newspaper which has deeply and widely influenced modern life in many ways.
A newspaper at first was nothing more than a paper which gave news. In its infancy, it had no other aim. But as it developed, it began to be used for various other purposes and served several ends. Today, it has become a tremendous force for good and evil in the world. It not only continues, as before, to give news but also comments on them, criticizes the people and the government, deals with social, political, industrial and religious questions, reviews books and periodicals, ventilates grievances and does many other things, In fact there is hardly any public activity of man which does not come within the purview of the modern newspaper. The press, of course, has now become an organ of public opinion.
But unfortunately, sometimes the press is stifled. It is prevented from carrying out its legitimate work either by the unfitness of those who manage it or by the unnecessary interference of the powers that be. It is sometimes seen that passion and not reason guides its action. A wrong cause is championed, truth is suppressed and morbid tastes are pandered by it. Dangerous as these evils are, a greater danger comes from the attempt of some irresponsible government to gag or subsidies newspapers. Often, without sufficient cause, newspapers are gagged simply because they had the guts of criticizing plainly the unjust action of government.
But when it runs or is allowed to run in a normal and rational course, a newspaper is a great public educator. More than what can be done in schools and colleges is done by it. It supplies necessary information on the burning topics of the day, tackles the principal social and political problem of a country, criticizes books and brings to light the epoch making discoveries and inventions. It benefits every class of people. But it is not only a public educator and fearless critic of a government, it is also a great social reformer. It is in the columns of the newspapers that social abuse, are ruthlessly exposed and criticized and attention of the public is drawn to the inherent evils of some customs and practices.
The press is also an effective check on the vagaries of men in power. So it is a great mentor and stands against the misuse of power and the miscarriage of justice. It brings all the questions of the day before the bar of public opinion to be approved or condemned by it, in this way it serves the nation. The press is also a very great force in the field of politics. It teaches citizens their rights and responsibilities and make them fit for citizenship. It educates public opinion and teaches people how to vote, what taxes to pay and for what purposes, it explains the significance’ of the municipal laws and bylaws comments on the proceeding of the legislative council and other public’ bodies and helps men to develop their civic sense.
The press is a public organ, the voice of the people and therefore the freedom of the press means the freedom of the people. In a country where there is no free press the people may be independent, but they are not free in the true sense of the word. The press in self defense, if not for any higher motive has ever the champion of political freedom. Whenever a newspaper lights for the freedom of the press, it indirectly fights for the freedom of the people. The test of a country’s freedom is determined by the amount of freedom its press enjoys. To stifle the press is to stifle the nation. Milton said “as good almost kill a man as kill a good book”, and the remark is also applicable to the newspapers.
Newspapers also wield a tremendous influence to break down barriers between nations and help in forming themselves into a great brotherhood of nations. It knits up the different parts of a vast continent and teaches them to feel for one another. But it not only fosters international feelings, it teaches us to embrace the whole world as out kith and kin. A sense of fraternity is fostered by the spread of knowledge through the columns of the newspaper.
As a cheap and public educator, holding up the torch in the midst of darkness, as a trenchant and impartial critic of public administration of law and justice, as a social reformer patiently reforming the abuses of a society, as the champion of freedom in a country, as the destroyer of the barriers which separate man from man, nations from nations, and lastly as a pointer to the prospect of universal liberty, equality and fraternity, the newspaper in modern times has come to exercise a tremendous influence on the public and private life of man. There is no end to its potentiality for good if it can steer clear of greed, partiality, meanness and arrogance.
That is why, it is appropriately called the ‘Forth Estate’.