A Free Press

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The press is often referred to as the "fourth branch of government”--this may be meant positively as well as negatively.

In the positive sense, this refers to the fact that a free press is essential for monitoring the three real branches of government: the parliament, the government and the courts. A free and critical press is necessary in order to expose abuse of power and make it known to the public. Therefore, like a "fourth wheel", it is needed to make sure that the other three powers serve the people.

In the negative sense, the predicate refers to the fact that 1) in specific instances the press occasionally plays an unintentional but significant political role and 2) not everything the press does is beneficial to democracy or individual legal rights. From time to time the press has its own hidden agenda.

An open political agenda is part of the public debate, and most major European and American newspapers were started in order to voice a particular political persuasion. But if facts are distorted or excluded without intentions being open and clear, harm may come to the public debate and to democracy.

In some instances the press may even take on the aspect of a public pillory rather than a source of news and information. People are sometimes exposed publicly as guilty of crimes before the courts have spoken. This violates legal rights and the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Next chapter: Open Debate