The importance of Freedom of the Press

Democracy is, in my opinion, about communications, transparency, trust, education, the pursuit of peace, and votes.

Right now, the freedom of the press has become a real focus. Why are many people so fraught with fear and anger when it comes to this issue?

They are worried because they want to maintain a democratic, transparent society and some recent activity of the police in raids on the ABC and on other journalists has created uncertainty and anger.

My experience tells me that we need several things in place if we are to have a true democracy. Freedom of the press, a free education, a universal, transparent and trusted voting system, and the separation of powers are the key pillars of a democracy.

We need freedom of the press so that the people can have access to information on what is happening, so they can access information from many sources and have faith in that information or at least be able to judge the veracity of that information.

We need universal education so that people can read the information. We also need quality education to ensure people can not only read but can also comprehend what they are reading and what they are hearing. Our education is still world class but is going through change; it needs to be constantly reviewed and improved to maintain our economy and our democracy.

Any society’s methodology for voting has to be overt, trusted and universal.

A society’s judicial and law enforcement system has to be completely divorced from the political and the policing processes.

And there we have it – democracy.

These opinions are based upon experiences in various countries undergoing economic and political change, including the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Turkey, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China. This work was completed in the 1990s during much change in the old Soviet Union and in international affairs.

In these countries we aimed to empower affected people with a greater say in what was an uncertain economic future. Projects developed activities around planning for and managing major enterprise retrenchments, the reskilling of retrenched workers, job creation, local economic development, and the divestiture of state-owned assets.

These were projects based around comprehensive change management. A key part of the activity was communications. People needed to be aware of the changes and why they were occurring. Thus, the need for a free and open press that could be trusted and for an education system that gave people the capacity to read and understand information.

One reason that the World Bank has these projects and activities is apparently the fact that war and unrest often come from extremes of government and the disruption of democratic government. These extremes arise for many reasons, one being the fear from a significant part of a population that it is being treated unfairly and/or that others are receiving preferential treatment and unearned wealth. In a non-democratic society where freedom of the press is limited, people don’t read about these injustices but see with their own eyes the difference in living standards and treatment. From this lack of information and deprivation of rights come civil unrest and war, which don’t much favour anyone except for the manufacturers of war machines and the malevolent leaders. No country wins, even those geographically remote from the place of conflict.

The World Bank, or its official name - The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development – aims to create fair and equitable economies to limit the opportunity for corrupt government, dictatorships and despots to emerge. Other international organisations have similar aims.

We further know that security and security organisations are essential for any country and vital for national protection and well-being; a free unencumbered media is also an essential part of that society.

Australia does have a free media, a media that is in the main acting and reporting responsibly. We do however need to have an ongoing debate to maintain that freedom and our democracy.