The role of the media in democratic society has been described as one of a “public watchdog”. This means that the task of media is to inform society on matters of public interest and to create a platform for public debate and reflection. This is why media enjoy special protection and rights when they carry out this task.

Reporting on matters of public interest

The general public has a right to receive information on matters of public interest. What is considered to be “the public interest” is not clearly defined and to some degree depends on the context in which a particular topic is discussed.

example A report on how a minister has abused his/her power by influencing the results of public tenders, an illustration of tensions among different ethnic or religious groups in society, or criticism of flaws in a police investigation of a murder case would clearly cover matters of public interest.

Protection

Journalists enjoy the highest level of protection while reporting on matters of public interest. This means that they are allowed more freedom in criticising and publishing information that could otherwise infringe on other people’s rights.

Even in these cases, the freedom of press in not unlimited, however, any restrictions must be evaluated very strictly. This protection comes with duties and responsibilities, called a standard of professional conduct which the media is expected to observe.

Reporting on other matters

The rights of the media are also protected when they report on topics not regarded to be matters of public interest, such as entertainment. However, because there is no overriding public interest or significance in such reports, the media will have less freedom to criticize or to publish information or statements that may infringe on other people’s rights, such as the right to private life. Read more about reporting on private life.

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