The media are a component, a vital component, of any civil society and their role in consolidating democracy has long been recognized. “Democracy is impossible without free media. This is a principle that is deeply ingrained in democratic theory and practice. As early as the 17th century, Enlightenment theorists have argued that publicity and openness provide the best protection against tyranny and the excesses of arbitrary rule. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the American Republic said once: “Where it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter”.
Democratic theory argues that governments cannot be held accountable if citizens are ill informed about the actions of officials and institutions. The media is a guardian of public interest, warning citizens against those who are doing them harm. The media also serve as a conduit between governors and the governed and as an arena for public debate that helps build a civic culture and a tradition of debate. By providing information and acting as a forum of public debate, the media play a catalytic role, making reforms possible through the democratic process, strengthening democratic institutions and public participation.
Although fundamental changes have initiated in the ex-Communist Balkans and Turkey since the beginning of the 1990s concerning freedom of expression and the free flow of information (as for example the enactment of new Constitutions or Constitutional reforms that in principle guarantee freedom of expression) it was underlined during the workshop organized by the Greek Liberties Monitor at Sounio, on 26-28May 2017, that significant problems remain in the Western Balkans as well as in Turkey. Some of the serious obstacles and constraints faced by the media are:
- Governments, like the current one in Turkey, that openly harass and punish journalists who have published critical information,
- Journalists exposed to physical attacks, pressure and threats from authorities and party officials,
- Political parties and business interests that use the weak economic environment to exercise pressure and control over journalists and the media.
It is though critically important for the international community, and in particular the EU and the USA, to continue supporting freedom of the media and to make sure that conditions exist in the Western Balkans and Turkey that allow the media to play their role as the Fourth Estate, the watchdog of public interest, checking on the excesses and the abuses of power.
Dr Yorgos Christidis
Department of Balkan, Slavonic and Eastern Studies
University of Macedonia