The ideals of freedom of the press and freedom of expression/speech are said to have emerged along with Liberalism. Explain what is meant by a ”˜free press’ and how this relates to the notion of the press as the ”˜fourth estate’. What challenges are ”˜publishers’ (in the broadest sense) posing in relation to the maintenance of free speech and a free press?
Free press is crucial for the maintenance of democracy since the free press performs the role of the fourth estate. What is meant here is the fact that the free press contributes to pluralism in the society, as any person has the right and opportunity to express his/her opinion publicly and freely. Therefore, the free press contributes to the diversity of views and opinions in the society on socially important issues. At the same time, today, publishers raise the problem of the lack of control over the free press since publishers may be offensive in relation to other people and social groups. For instance, today, any person may become a publisher due to the wide spread of internet and information technologies. However, publishers may spread offensive information. For instance, some individuals may use anonymity in internet to spread sexually explicit materials or to spread discriminatory information about certain individuals or organizations online.
In fact, the freedom of press is inseparable from the concept of democracy. The free press is an essential tool that contributes to the public control over the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of power. This is why the free press may be viewed as the ”˜fourth estate’. The free press is the major opportunities for people to express their opinion on important issues and to attract the public attention to those issues. Without free press, Australia, as well as any other democratic country, can turn into an authoritarian state with strict ideology created by the ruling elite and serving interests of the ruling elite because the lack of the freedom of press leaves no room for pluralism, while the lack of pluralism leads to the rise of the monopolistic ideology that oppresses all the other ideologies and shapes the public opinion.
However, the free press does not necessarily mean the absolute freedom for publishers because publishers can publish offensive materials, for instance, child pornography. Naturally, such publishers should be banned and the limitation of their publishing rights is not the limitation of the free press but it is the protection of public moral and ethical norms. The freedom of speech and free press are civil rights, which cannot interfere in the field of the criminal law since certain activities, such as the creation or distribution, including the distribution through publishing, child pornography, are crimes. Hence the limitation of the opportunity for publishers to publish illegal or offensive content is a legally-grounded necessity.