This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Communication critics assert that Freedom of the Press is Freedom of the Citizen, if communication and information is free to all and made available at any time, it abuse would be on the increase. Nevertheless, it can be contended that freedom of the press in Nigeria is still seen as an illusion as those who oppose the bill that will enable free press in Nigeria believes that the bill will not only promote freedom of information in Nigeria but transparency and openness in governance and government is antithetical to their rapacious and parochial interests. (Olaiya, 2009). In the same vein, Mayor (1998) contends that Freedom of expression is no abstract or passive right. To have meaning, it has to be used – used constantly, used responsibly, used well. Mayor (1998) upholds that the struggle to press freedom is not only a difficult task, but a permanently on-going one. He further stated that we all need the liberating power of information. It is ignorance which sows the seeds of hatred, division and conflict. The free flow of information makes us see there is just one world. One we all live in. Without press freedom - democracy, tolerance and peace will never be safe. We have to remain vigilant: always ready to oppose pressure, manipulation, censorship and other violations of press freedom. Mayor (1998). Why is it that press freedom will always be vulnerable? Mayor cited Gerald Winstanley, “Freedom is the Man that will turn the world upside down, therefore no wonder he has enemies”. To adapt those words: - therefore no wonder that the temptation to curb press freedom will
always be there. A newspaper article may not turn the world upside down - but it can challenge authority and upset the status quo. Undemocratic regimes may respond with jail or censorship. In a democracy, government and public or private institutions may try to discourage reports on sensitive information. But in spite of this, progress is made, thanks to the lucidity and courage of journalists. Although the fight for press freedom is begun anew each day around the world, each victory consolidates the base on which it is built. Indeed, press freedom is one of the corner-stones of democracy. Press freedom could be said to be the ‘life-wire’ for any growing democracy. Beyond that freedom of the press could be seen as a channel that allows free flow of ‘blood’ to and fro in the heart. It could be noted here that the ‘heart’ is democracy and ‘blood’ is the press. Just imagine! If there is any obstruction or hindrance in the flow of blood it could lead to disorder in the entire system. The right of access to information held by Governments and public authorities remains a tool for promoting accountability in governance and as well an essential component of the right to freedom of expression. It, therefore, unequivocally declared that the importance of public access to official information, both in promoting transparency and accountable governance and in encouraging the full participation of citizens in the democratic process is still in the hands of the government in order to perpetuate justice. However, the benefits such access can bring include the facilitation of public participation in public affairs, enhancing the accountability of government, providing a powerful aid in the fight against corruption as well as being a key livelihood and development issue.
Schmidt (2007) argues that the media holds a great potential as a resource for press freedom and freedom of expression. He went further to proclaim that the media serve as a platform for dialogue across borders and allow for innovative approaches to the distribution and acquisition of knowledge. Conversely, in the words of Nelson Mandela, a world acclaimed African statesman of this era: “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy and the press must be free from state interference and must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear and favour. It is only a free press that can temper any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen and act as a vigilant watch dog of the public interest against the abuse of power by persons in government” Interestingly, access to information would guarantee popular participation in governance, studies have shown that freedom of information encourage people-centre policy by giving the citizens an active role in participatory governance The journey for press freedom in Nigeria continues to linger even though freedom of the press is the cornerstone upon which democracy rests. It is established that freedom of information is crucial for a good society. Former American president Thomas Jefferson had articulated that ‘information is the currency of democracy’, in the same vein, his counterpart James Madison had expanded it by noting that ‘knowledge will forever govern ignorance. Nevertheless the struggle for freedom of the press in Africa, Nigeria in particular, is looking increasingly like a guerrilla war between press freedom advocates and autocratic leaders who claim they support press freedom but whose actions contradict their assertions. Yet, the freedom of information bill, which will activate the free flow of information in Nigeria press, is still a
mirage. Perhaps there is credibility in the statement that freedom is not offered willingly by political leaders but it must be contested and wrested from the grip of despotic leaders. Can we say then that President Obasanjo administration had no intention of restraining press freedom in Nigeria? Because President Obasanjo was seen as the messiah that would have rescue us from the hands of our enemies. But the reverse was the case, someone may say for how long are we going to wrestle and fight for our rights? Schmidt (2007) sees Freedom of the press as an application of individual human rights to freedom of expression. He recognizes that press freedom is central to building strong
democracies, promoting civic participation and the rule of law, and encouraging human development and security. Schmidt (2007) suggests that freedom of the press promote freedom of expression and press freedom as a basic right indispensable to the exercise of democratic citizenship. In the same way, the UNESCO Constitution states a commitment to fostering “the free exchange of ideas and knowledge” and “the free flow of ideas by word and image.” This is in addition to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” Communication scholars assert that communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization, is central to the Information Society. Historically, press freedom is known as such because it was printers and newspapers that fought for this right, which refers nowadays to media in general. Media freedom is a right that goes
beyond an individual’s freedom of expression, although it is built upon that right. In many places, it is privately owned newspapers that continue this quest or help preserve victories against powerful forces reluctant to allow certain information to become public. (Berger, 2007) While press freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights, most countries have enacted national civil legislation limiting it in such cases such as libel, breach of privacy and pedophilia. The universal human right of freedom of expression. Essentially, it is dangerous to establish rules for the flow of information. Not only does it hinder the free flow of ideas and opinions but it may also force “unwanted” ideas to be expressed exclusively underground, making it impossible to openly counter hate speech and propaganda with informed arguments. Furthermore, there is the risk that ideas and opinions that could enhance the open debate on controversial issues will be silenced. The real challenge is to fully exploit the potential of media while not compromising civil liberties. This freedom of the press has been fought for, bitterly, often at great human sacrifice and never won totally in Nigeria and this continues to be the case in dozens of countries worldwide, with record numbers of journalists being killed and jailed every year. Freedom of the press is never simply handed over by governments; it is almost always the fruit of tremendous resistance, of a titanic struggle between the desire for truth and justice, free expression and debate, and the forces of repression and obscurantism. Very happily, a powerful new arm has appeared in this struggle over the past years and it has been taken up on the side of the good and the right, on the side of pluralism and democracy.
It could be argued that freedom of the press is an empowerment to curtail the excess of the government, Berger (2007) corroborates the above statement when he observed that press freedom in general is fundamentally around public power - and in particular about journalism. He further noted that press freedom is the form of communication that deals with power. In all, press freedom is a sub-category of wider power contestations. Its parameters are largely determined by a broader balance of forces. President of the World Bank, James D. Wolfenson, recently argued that “a free press is not a luxury”, but “at the absolute core of equitable development”. The reasons were petty and technical, a crafty way for Obasanjo to suspend action on the bill through presidential grandstanding. First, Obasanjo’s disagreement with the bill was based on the title. The bill was entitled “Freedom of Information” but Obasanjo, as an emperor, wanted to impose his preferred title – “Right to Information Bill”. The second ground on which Obasanjo declined to sign the bill was equally clumsy. He said the bill excluded public access to records which could be harmful to the “defence” of Nigeria and overlooked those records which could be “injurious to the security” of Nigeria. In a semantic argument, Obasanjo said the word “defence” of Nigeria was distinctively different from the words “injurious to the security” of Nigeria. Of course the words may not mean the same thing but Obasanjo cannot be more informed and knowledgeable than all members of the National Assembly who voted for the passage of the bill. It is fashionable for African political leaders to talk about the great role of the media in the promotion of democracy and socio-economic development. But the same leaders always lack the courage to grant journalists the freedom to perform their job unencumbered by official and unofficial rules. There is no question that a positive relationship exists between media freedom
and the growth of democracy in society. In his book -- Africa’s Media, Democracy and the Politics of Belonging -- Francis B. Nyamnjoh underlines the categorical relationship between media freedom, advancement of democracy and socio-economic development in Africa and indeed in other parts of the world. Nyamnjoh argues systematically and logically that democratization and socio-economic development of Africa cannot take place in a vacuum. In his views, the news media are central to the emergence of a culture of democracy in Africa. The kernel of his argument is that African journalists are like their counterparts in other parts of the world – they are, in many ways, a reflection of the society within which they operate. In other words, the news media are not abstract entities. The need for the speedy enactment of a legislation focused primarily on providing for the right of access to public records/information in Nigeria will be at the verge of setting the tempo of sustaining and preserving Nigeria nascent democracy, can be justified on several fronts, the major points being that, the first and foremost, it is central to our collective desire as a nation to evolve a proper and active culture of participatory democracy, which we all agree is the preferred system of governance for our dear country. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1995 had stated in the report that “The right to seek or have access to information is one of the most essential elements of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom will be bereft of all effectiveness if the people have no access to information. Access to information is basic to the democratic way of life.” For journalists to perform the noble and thankless job assigned to them by society, they would have to operate in an environment in which they are free to tell the truth, to report daily events without hindrance, political intimidation, harassment and threats to their lives. These are just
some of the constraints that confront Nigerian journalists in particular and African journalists in the 21st century. Ironically, as the world celebrates the spread of democratic governments in many African countries, African “democrats” are deliberately chipping off the basic freedoms of their people through policies and laws designed to promote authoritarianism rather than democracy. It is not surprising to observe that, many years after the attainment of political and economic independence, tensions have persisted between African journalists and some new breed African leaders. The basis for disagreement has always been the desire of African leaders to remain in power, to be responsible and accountable to no one but themselves, and to cultivate a press that is free to observe but gagged from reporting what it sees. This point needs to be underlined: how journalists function and the extent to which they are able to carry out their role in society can be determined from the amount of freedom they enjoy. A press constrained by government laws is not a free press. It is quite simply a lapdog of the government. A press without the basic freedom to operate responsibly in society makes no meaningful contribution to the growth of democracy and, above all, denies the people their right to know. In every society, the news media function through the agency of human beings – the journalists. If journalists are restricted from performing their official roles, through vexatious laws passed by parliament and implemented by government, our society would be the loser. This is why the struggle for press freedom in Africa should not be confined to journalists and media owners. The battle for press freedom in Africa must be fought in collaboration with civil society groups, lawyers, student organizations, trade unions, religious leaders, opposition political groups, and indeed all members of society that are served by the press. Indeed, It is generally accepted that the more press and media freedom a country enjoys, the greater the respect for human rights. Furthermore, it is often in those countries with greater
media freedoms that the structures and practice of democratic governance are likely to show stability and strength. Meanwhile, the right of access to information held by Governments and public authorities remains a tool for promoting accountability in governance and as well an essential component of the right to freedom of expression. It is a cliché that a free press is essential in modern democracy and a pillar on which the principles of democracy stand. Where the freedom is denied, it would be difficult to point out and correct the errors of the government without fear of molestation. It is imperative therefore, the importance of public access to official information, both in promoting transparency and accountable governance and in encouraging the full participation of citizens in the democratic process. Conversely, the benefits of the right of access to information which is the gospel truth that freedom of the press propagates cannot only facilitate public participation in public affairs, but enhancing the accountability of government, providing a powerful aid in the fight against corruption as well as being a key livelihood and development issue. Communication scholars have argued that no community exists without an adequate communication system to hold it together, with the mass media playing highly important role in fostering societal integration. It would appear that not many people, owing to indifference truly appreciate the power of information in any given society. The fact remains
that no society can exist without information. Nevertheless, the need of press freedom in Nigeria continues to dawdle even though freedom of the press is seen as the bedrock of democracy. Conventionally, that freedom of information is crucial for a good society, corroborates the statement former American president Thomas Jefferson had articulated that ‘information is the currency of democracy’, in the same vein, his counterpart James Madison had expanded it by noting that ‘knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to their own
governors but arm themselves with the power of knowledge. Yet, the tussle for freedom of the press in Nigeria has raised concerns in the Nigeria polity and the sustenance of her nascent democracy. The need for the speedy enactment of a legislation focused primarily on providing for the right of access to public records/information in Nigeria will be at the verge of setting the tempo of sustaining and preserving Nigeria nascent democracy, can be justified on several fronts, the major points being that, the first and foremost, it is central to our collective desire as a nation to evolve a proper and active culture of participatory democracy. This study will give a clearer picture on the benefits of freedom of the press in Nigeria as it will help strengthened Nigeria polity and build the threshold of confidence and trust in government policies and decisions as citizens would be entitled to have regular updates on the affairs of government. In other words, having information on government programmes, policies, contract award and execution, revenue and expenditure readily available is one major area the freedom of information, will serve every Nigerian citizens. It is also imperative to say that freedom of the press will help fast-track the records keeping practice of public institutions and ensure the that government records and documents are properly kept and reasonably guarantee the integrity of creating an enabling environment for obtaining information and monitoring the activities of various departments of government and encourage participatory democracy in Nigeria, as information would be freely available. This will empower citizens to make informed decisions and monitor distortions in policy in policy implementation and improve the quality of decisions and policies of government as it will be
possible for citizens and stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process. This study
also highlights the importance of freedom of the press as the bedrock and the foundational pillar of democracy, as it provide the atmosphere that help to curb the excesses of the government. Above all, this study reveals that the freedom of press will promote accountability and transparency in governance. Asides that, it will deepen the culture of research as access to authentic records would be made much easier for students and academics.
It is believed, Freedom of Expression and the right to seek information are interlinked and fundamental human rights as stated in Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Press Freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people by giving them the information that can help gain control over their own lives. This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and others accountable. But this flow of communication does not happen automatically. It has to be fostered by a free, pluralistic, independent and professional media (Matsuura, 2008). According to Matsuura (2008) Empowerment is a social and political process that is the natural by-product of access to accurate, fair and unbiased information representing a plurality of opinions. It allows citizens to gain control over their own lives, to work cooperatively and to provide direction to their leaders. The information flows must be on multiple levels and multidimensional, in a “multi-logue” with many conversations feeding into the collective consciousness and enriching the active life of people. Ensuring freedom for the media around the world is a priority. Independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance in democracies that are young and old. Free media can
ensure transparency, accountability and the rule of law; they promote participation in public and political discourse, and contribute to the fight against poverty. An independent media sector draws its power from the community it serves and in return empowers that community to be full a partner in the democratic process. (Berger, 2009) It is evident that the right to free speech and the associated Press Freedom is deeply interwoven with the right to access information. As the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights declared in 2000, censorship violates not only the right of each individual to express themselves, it also impairs the right of each person to be well informed. On the other hand, cognizance also needs to be taken of the wider way in which information access is essential for both democracy and development. This pertains not just to the state guaranteeing free speech to the citizens and their media institutions. It is also in respecting that information held by, or generated by, the state is equally the property of the people. As the Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2002, states: “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.” In other words, those in authority are merely caretakers of information on behalf of the people. If information held by the state is power, then it should be for the purposes of empowering society, and not for empowering officialdom against the citizenry. Empowering access relates not just to the data held by the state, but also to processes – such as access to policy- and regulation related meetings within public institutions.
Be that as it may, in the face of calls for the Right to Information, many political leaders and civil servants spring immediately to a defensive posture of stressing the need to limit the circulation of “sensitive” information. Essentially, it is exactly the purpose of Freedom of Information to throw open the curtains that conceal what happens in the corridors of executive power, thereby exposing officialdom to public scrutiny and accountability. The power of enduring public shame and anger, as a countervailing power to potential abuses by government, cannot be underestimated. When executive behavior has to occur in the sunlight, its excesses are curbed, and valuable public input can be incorporated. Basically, Freedom of Information, can be qualified like most rights, – but such limitations should be secondary, rather than primary, considerations when it comes to legislation provision for information access. There is substantial jurisprudence, and valuable standards proposed by NGOs such as ARTICLE 19, around this issue. In terms of these, any limitations to the right to Freedom of Information need, at least, to serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society. Not stopping at defining access and its limitations, some Right to Information laws go further and provide International Federation of Journalists. For penalties for state officials who obstruct legitimate information requests. Some laws also set out protection for officials who might release otherwise restricted information in good faith or in the public interest. In addition, legislation sometimes includes provisions along the lines of the African Commission Declaration that public bodies should be required, even in the absence of a request, to actively publish information of significant public interest. In terms of encouraging the empowerment of citizens, therefore, Freedom of Information is at the heart of a participatory democracy. Consider the consequences of an uninformed electorate going to the polls; consider the consequences when information flows are curbed or manipulated in times of political crisis
or ethnic strife. Freedom of Information promotes a true sense of ownership within society and therefore gives meaning to the concept of citizenship. Berger (2009) contends that Freedom of Information as an elaborated legal right does not guarantee access as such as it is evident in most African countries a typical example is Nigeria . While Freedom of Information laws, which permit access to public information are essential, so too are the means by which information is made available. Despite some progress, the legal framework for freedom of expression, press freedom and media work has remained a challenge in Nigeria. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental human right. Apart from the “Right to Life” there is no other right in the groups of rights that is more significant than the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights guarantees the Freedom of Expression. Moreover, the majority of the governments have also gone ahead to reflect this fundamental principle in the national constitutions. However, Article 9 of the African Charter has been considered inadequate by most media organizations in the continent. In this regard, media organizations in the continent, in collaboration with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights drafted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which recognizes that “Freedom of expression is an inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy” Despite the development of the legal framework, various factors have been employed by most governments, to hinder Freedom of Expression and of the press in Africa. African governments, Nigeria in particular have often legislated very draconian measures in order to intimidate the press. Such arbitrary measures include: the charging of exorbitant license fees for media house,
registration of journalists, obnoxious libel and defamation laws and the levy of heavy importation taxes on media-related materials and equipment, arbitrary arrests and jailing of journalists. However, for an effective implementation of Freedom of Information laws requires a genuine commitment on the part of all levels of governments and public services to be transparent and open to scrutiny, adequate resourcing, improved records and information management systems and infrastructure and education for the public and State bodies on their rights and obligations under the law. LIBERITARIAN THEORY Libertarians believe that individuals should have complete freedom of action, provided their actions do not infringe on the freedom of others. The core doctrine of libertarianism begins with the recognition that people have certain natural rights and that deprivation of these rights is immoral. Among these natural rights are the right to personal autonomy and property rights, and the right to the utilization of previously unused resources. These two basic assumptions form the foundation of all libertarian ideals. Libertarianism can be traced back to ancient China, where philosopher Lao-tzu advocated the recognition of individual liberties. The modern libertarian theory emerged in the sixteenth century through the writings of Etienne de La Boetie (1530-1563), an eminent French theorist. In the seventeenth century, John Locke and a group of British reformers known as the Levellers fashioned the classical basis for libertarianism with well-received philosophies on human nature and economics. Since the days of Locke, libertarianism has attracted pacifists, utopianists,
utilitarianists, anarchists, and fascists. This wide array of support demonstrates the accessibility and elasticity of the libertarian promotion of natural rights. Essential to the notion of natural rights is respect for the natural rights of others. Without a dignified population, voluntary cooperation is impossible. According to the libertarian, the means to achieving a dignified population and voluntary cooperation is inextricably tied to the promotion of natural rights. Libertarianism holds that people lose their dignity as government gains control of their body and their life. The abdication of natural rights to government prevents people from living in their own way and working and producing at their own pace. The result is a decrease in self-reliance and independence, which results in a decrease in personal dignity, which in turn depresses society and necessitates more government interference. This theory assumes that the media main goal is to convey the truth and the media will not cave in to outside pressure THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY THEORY Defining social responsibility in the media traces back to a key landmark in the field: that is, a report produced by the Commission on the Freedom of the Press, more casually known as the Hutchins Commission. The project was requested in 1942 by the founder of Time magazine Henry Luce, at a time when it was believed that First Amendment freedoms were being increasingly threatened by the rise of totalitarian regimes throughout the world (Blevins, 1997) The distinction between accountability and responsibility can be held as such: “Whereas accountability often is referred to as the manifestation of claims to responsibility, the latter is the
acknowledged obligation for action or behavior within frameworks of roles and morals” (Plaisance, 2000). Responsibility is in this sense the obligation for proper custody, care and safekeeping of one’s audience. More specifically, social responsibility entails the necessity for the journalist to keep society’s interest as a top priority. This can also be seen as a collective responsibility or public interest responsibility. Holding the press accountable for the level of responsibility of its actions implies having a clear idea of what this “responsibility” entails. In the words of Hodges who has attempted to assemble this kind of definition, “we cannot reasonably demand that the press give an account of itself or improve its performance until we determine what it is the press is responsible for doing” (Hodges, 1986). Hutchins(1947) emphasizes that Free and Responsible Press have the following tenets: (1) a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning; (2) a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism; (3) the projection of a representative picture of the constituent groups in the society; (4) the presentation and clarification of the goals and values of the society; (5) full access to the day’s intelligence. Further support for a public policy for media was provided by the influence of the 1947 American Commission on Freedom of the Press . . . This made a clear link for the first time between freedom of the press and ‘social responsibility’, meaning an obligation to provide trustworthy and relevant news and information as well as opportunities for diverse voices to be heard in the public arena. The Commission’s report even encouraged the view that government
intervention might be needed to secure the essential quality of news and information, should the press fail in this task. (Siebert et al., 1956) Social responsibility was presented as the third theory in their book Four Theories of the Press, alongside Authoritarian, Libertarian and Soviet theories. One pivotal characteristic of their view is an emphasis on the media’s responsibility to use its powerful position to ensure appropriate delivery of information to audiences; furthermore, if the media fails in carrying out this responsibility, it may be relevant to have a regulatory instance enforce it: The power and near monopoly position of the media impose on them an obligation to be socially responsible, to see that all sides are fairly presented and that the public has enough information to decide; and that if the media do not take on themselves such responsibility it may be necessary for some other agency of the public to enforce it. (Siebert et al., 1956) In both the Hutchins Commission report and the theory put forth by Siebert et al., the concept of public interest, albeit inexplicitly, lies at the heart of the definition of social responsibility. This highlights the crucial role of the communications sector in shaping societal processes: the formation of public opinion and civil society movements, social and political development patterns, including more tangible processes such as the unfurling of elections campaigns an their outcome, maintaining objectivity by providing different sides of an issue, which empowers audiences to formulate their own judgments and increases levels of truthfulness in reporting. - Attempting a succinct definition for social responsibility in the media (1991) In a very different methodological and geographical setting from that of Habermas, Owens-Ibie made an interesting attempt at formulating a concise definition for social responsibility in the media, from the perspective of a developing country, specifically Nigeria. He maintains that as
part of its responsibility to serve public interest, “the mass media are expected to inform the citizenry of what goes on in the government, which, in a way, keeps rulers in check. Also, the media should be reporting on and promoting discussion of ideas, opinions and truths toward the end of social refinement; acting as a nation’s ‘bulletin board’ for information and mirroring the society and its peoples just the way they are, thus exposing the heroes and the villains.” (OwensIbie, 1994) According to this author, the media are accountable in the following ways: - “To their audiences, to whom they owe correct news reportage, analysis and editorializing. - To government, to which they owe constructive criticism, a relay of popular opinion and adequate feedback from the populace. - To their proprietor, to whom they owe the survival of the media organization as a business venture as well as a veritable source of education, enlightenment and entertainment. - To themselves, to whom they owe fulfillment in their calling, satisfaction and an entire success story. When any of these “judges”’ of journalistic responsibility is shunted, accountability is dented and automatically, responsibility is affected adversely.” (Owens-Ibie, 1994) According to Cuilenburg and McQuail (2003), “historically, the state has often been perceived as the main enemy of freedom of individual expression, while at the same time it has also become, through constitutions and legal systems, the effective guarantor of freedom in important respects.” As this statement underscores, there is much controversy regarding the level of involvement that regulatory instances should have in guaranteeing that the media carries out its
social responsibilities. Different views of the debate span the spectrum from complete opposition to any formal regulation whatsoever (e.g. selfregulation by the media, with a reference to ethics codes as a normative framework internal to each media organization), to propositions for enforcement of social responsibility in media legislation. However, regardless of the wide range of differing positions on what constitutes an acceptable level or intensity of regulation, most would agree that the media is obligated to carry out ethical practices, e.g. its social responsibility: “regardless of whether government-imposed public interest obligations are constitutional, the broadcast media, like the print media, have an ethical obligation to serve the public interest and make a positive contribution to the democratic process” (Napoli, 2001). It is worth exploring the different ways in which this ethical obligation can be carried out. PRESS FREEDOM IN NIGERIA, IT’S STILL NOT INDEPENDENT It is apparent with the failure to pass the Freedom of Information Bill and the incessant harassment of journalists, Nigeria is still among countries where media practitioners are endangered species. Indeed, one might say that Journalism is one of the most hazardous professions in the world. This makes journalists to be endangered species. Cases abound all over the world about how journalists have been intimidated, harassed, maimed and even killed in the course of doing their job. A report last week by Freedom House, Washington DC, US, showed that 2008 was not a pleasant year for journalism as press freedom declined around the world. Although media
freedom has been declining for the past seven years in a row, it was the first time that press freedom would deteriorate in every region. Analysts attributed this to pressures from governments, powerful individuals; global economic crisis and lack of appropriate laws to enable journalists to have access to the right information that will assist them to perform their duties. Bakare (2009) upholds that journalism profession today is up against the ropes and fighting to stay alive, as pressures from governments, other powerful actors and the global economic crisis take an enormous toll. Freedom House said that while parts of South Asia and Africa made progress last year, ”overall these gains were overshadowed by a campaign of intimidation targeting independent media, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa.” Freedom House was created in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then US president Franklin Roosevelt, among others. It is being funded by the US government and private groups and has been conducting a study of press freedom since 1980. The organization said out of the 195 countries and territories covered in the study, 70, or 36 per cent, were rated ”free,” 61 (31 per cent), were rated ”partly free” and 64 (33 per cent) were rated ”not free.” Among the worst-rated in 2008 were Belarus, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Laos, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, the Palestinian territories, Rwanda and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
Freedom House said press freedom declined in Senegal, Madagascar, Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and others in sub-Saharan Africa while Comoros, Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia showed improvement. Overall in sub-Saharan Africa, 23 countries (48 per cent) were classified as “not free,” seven (15 per cent) as “free” and 18 (37 per cent) as “partly free.” There were no status changes this year. Nigeria is rated as “partly free.” Prior to the release of the Freedom House‘s report in May, Global Integrity another US-based group, rated Nigeria as one of the top gainers in its fight against corruption in 2008. But this did not qualify its anti-corruption crusade to be considered strong enough because government‘s dealings are still shrouded in secrecy. Global Integrity observed that its anti-corruption campaign was still “weak” because the public still did not have access to information about most dealings in government, adding that, “Nigeria continues to suffer from poor accountability across all branches of government and the civil service while citizens‘right to access information is embedded in the regulations of some specific agencies, a general freedom of information has been sitting in the Nigerian legislature since 1999.” This shows the importance of the Freedom of Information bill to ensure better governance and bring about a level of trust between government and the people. But the wrong impression from government circle is that Freedom of Information will confer undue advantage on journalists. Bakare cited Alabi-Oba, that it was imperative for absolute freedom granted to journalists to enable them to practice their profession.
Going by the axiom that: “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” analysts said politicians, who could afford to float media organizations, will continue to dictate the pace with little or no respect for press freedom. They also warned that with the recent harassment and intimidation of journalists in Nigeria and the continuous foot-dragging of lawmakers on the Freedom of Information bill, the country might be rated as one of the worst violators of press freedom when rated next by some organizations. For instance, Mr. Olusola Fabiyi, The PUNCH correspondent in Abuja, was arrested and detained by police in Abuja for reporting the allegation by the Action Congress that one governor from the North-Central zone was behind the plot to assassinate a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, which The PUNCH had published on March 23. Fabiyi, who was arrested around 2pm on March 25, 2009, was not released until 8.05pm for declining to write a statement about the source of his published story. Francis Dufugha of the Niger Delta Herald had his own dose of brutality against journalists on March 30 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. He was allegedly brutalised by soldiers and policemen on the orders of a top security aide for daring to take shots of Governor Timpre Sylva at a public function with his mobile phone. His phone was forcibly seized and his glasses got smashed by the overzealous security operatives. Again Bayelsa was in the news, Akin Orimolade, the Abuja Bureau Chief for the Lagos-based weekly newspaper, National Life, was abducted mysteriously from Abuja on March 17, and taken to Yenagoa. He was arraigned at Yenagoa Magistrate Court 4 in the Niger-Delta state of
Bayelsa. He was charged, along with two others who are still at large, with criminal defamation against Sylva in the newspaper‘s January 31 edition. While analysts noted that there was nothing wrong in charging a journalist to court under the appropriate law, they expressed concern about the manner of his ”arrest.” He was lured into a trap under the pretext that he should come and pick an advert for his newspaper before being abducted and forcibly taken to Yenagoa. In a similar vein, a photojournalist with The PUNCH, Mr. Segun Bakare, escaped death by the whiskers when he was attacked by some assailants, some of whom are highly placed in the Peoples Democratic Party during the rerun election in Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State. Bakare, who was attacked in the presence of Senator Ayo Arise on April 26, was injured and had his NIKON D300 digital camera valued at N650,000 seized. Concept of Press Freedom The West has generally associated press freedom with the characteristics of Siebert’s so-called libertarian theory of the press (1956). Stein (1966: 11) describes a free press as one that ‘acts as a market place where ideas, opinions and theories are served up to citizens for their acceptance or rejection’ without a government censor hanging ‘over the shoulder of the editorial writer’. Powe (1991: 285) says that ‘editorial autonomy from government’ and ‘inability of government to dictate coverage’ enable the press to perform its Fourth Estate role – ‘a role more secure than the nebulous and inconsistent possibilities in the public’s right to know’. Asante (1997) points out the following definitions of press freedom in the academic literature: relative absence of government restraints; prevalence of autonomy; and ability to serve as the Fourth Estate that checks the three official branches of the government. The purpose of a libertarian press is ‘to
inform, entertain, [and] sell – but chiefly to help discover truth, and to check on government’ (Siebert et al., 1956: 7). Within this context, the press enjoys negative rights to publish as it pleases with no concomitant responsibilities. Peterson’s formulation of the social responsibility theory of the press, following the Hutchins Commission report, retains the first three tasks of a libertarian press but contends that the chief purpose of the press is ‘to raise conflict to the plane of discussion’ (Siebert et al., 1956: 7). This approach, therefore, looks at press freedom as a positive right that entails concomitant responsibilities. The Hutchins Commission (Commission on Freedom of the Press, 1947: 12) wrote, ‘Freedom of the press is not a fixed and isolated value, the same in every society and in all times. It is a function within a society and must vary with the social context.’ Hocking (1947: 194), in one of the five special studies done for the commission, emphasized the very point that the concept of the free press ‘cannot mean the same in every society and at all times’. Thus, Nordenstreng makes a distinction between freedom of the press and freedom of individual expression thereby contending that press freedom is not a human right. Cullen and Fu (1998: 157) agree that although these two concepts are similar, the differences between the two ‘sometimes find themselves in opposition’. In this regard, one needs to remember the Hutchins Commission’s view that ‘freedom of speech and freedom of the press were moral rights’ that carried with them ‘accepted moral duties’ (Commission on Freedom of the Press, 1947: 9–10). White and Leigh (1946: 2), who authored the report on international communication as part of the work of the commission, urged the press to initiate ‘the widest possible exchange of objectively realistic information – true information, not merely more information’.
Moreover, the ‘press no longer performs the same functions that it did’ (Nerone, 1995: 175) during the late 1940s when the Hutchins Commission described the emerging conception of freedom of the press as follows: As with all freedom, press freedom means freedom from and also freedom for. A free press is free from compulsions from whatever source, governmental or social, external or internal. From compulsions, not from pressures: for no press can be free from pressures except in a moribund society empty of contending forces and beliefs. These pressures, however, if they are persistent and distorting – as financial, clerical, popular, institutional pressures may become – approach compulsions; and something is then lost from effective freedom, which the press and its public must unite to restore. A free press is free for the expression of opinion in all its phases. It is free for the achievement of those goals of press service on which its own ideals and the requirements of the community combine and which existing techniques make possible. For these ends it must have full command of technical resources, financial strength, reasonable access to sources of information at home and abroad, and the necessary facilities for bringing information to the national market. The press must grow to the measure of this market. For the press there is a third aspect of freedom. The free press must be free to all who have something worth saying to the public, since the essential object for which a free press is valued is that ideas deserving a public hearing shall have a public hearing. (Commission on Freedom of the Press, 1947: 128–9; Hocking, 1947: 228) The Commission on Freedom of the Press (1947: 107) further argued that the founding fathers bracketed freedom of the press with freedom of speech because the press was at first hardly more
than a means for extending the speaker’s audience. While exhorting that the ‘government must set limits upon its capacity to interfere with, regulate, control, or suppress the voices of the press or to manipulate the data on which public judgment is formed’, the commission also opined that the government ‘may and should enter the field of press comment and news supply, not as displacing private enterprise, but as a supplementary source’ (Commission on Freedom of the Press, 1947: 116, 128). The concept of the right to communicate includes the right to be informed, the right to inform, the right to privacy and the right to participate in public communication. An implicit presumption behind the Fourth Estate role of the press, as well as in the media participation and political participation variables in the dominant paradigm, is that a free press will lead to enlightenment on public issues that will stimulate political participation and democratic governance. Pressures on the press are inevitable in a dynamic society, but letting those pressures – whether from governmental or commercial interests – transform into compulsions, as the Hutchins Commission warned, would obstruct the practice of democracy, defined as governance based on popular will for the welfare of all citizens. Therefore, I have drawn attention to the need for assessing press freedom more objectively and accurately by paying greater attention to nongovernmental compulsions that obstruct the implementation of democracy so defined.
The Imperatives of Freedom of information Freedom of information is very imperative, if transparency must strife, the media played a principal role in bringing about the present civil dispensation through the many battles it waged against military dictatorship. The media has a major stake in the success of on-going efforts to institutionalize democracy in the country because of this historical fact and the fact that it is in the interest of the society, public good and good governance. A civil dispensation necessarily presupposes the enjoyment of the fullest democratic rights by the entire citizenry. Principal among these rights is the right of access to public information by the media and the public. It is worth reiterating that one of the reasons why the media opposed military rule was because it trampled on the right to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, all of which constituted major barriers against access to information that was in public interest. The face of information management in the country has not necessarily or fundamentally been altered for the better since the advent of civil rule on May 29, 1999. The Freedom of Information Act bill provides a great opportunity, therefore, to correct a past anomaly while opening fresh vistas for the dissemination of information to the widest segments of the populace. Through this, democracy is sure to have firm roots in our society and grow into a giant tree that cannot easily be uprooted. It has been observed many a times that whereas section 22 of the 1999 constitution tasks the media to monitor governance and hold government accountable to the people, the same constitution does not as a necessity give the media the enabling powers to perform the task. What is being stressed is that an FOIA will be a logical tool for the media to carry out the obligations
imposed on it by section 22 of the constitution which states that: ‘We can individually or as leaders in different organizations make public declarations about the premium we place on the Bill and encourage others to make the same proclamation of support’ The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria grants to Nigerians the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press. In Section 39 (1) it states: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”. However, in sub-section 3, the same constitution takes away with the left hand what it had granted with the right hand in section 39. Sub section 3 states: “Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society: (a) For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematography films or (b) Imposing restriction upon persons holding office under the government of the federation or of a state, members of the armed forces of the federation or members of the Nigeria Police Force or century for instance, fought against what was then in vogue: royal absolutism. Writers, historians and philosophers held their various views of what constitutes public interest. Principles of State Policy, Section 22, of the Constitution imposes some obligations on the mass media. It states “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”.
But how is the press supposed to discharge these weighty responsibilities if its voice is padlocked not only by the limitations contained in sub-section 3(a) and (b) of section 39 but also by the Official Secrets Act, 1962, and other enactments? Clearly, the Official Secrets Act prevents a journalist from receiving and or imparting information that is available to a government official by the virtue of his office. Section 1 of that Act makes it an offence for a person to transmit any classified matter to a person to whom he is not authorized on behalf of the government or to reproduce, retain or obtain any classified matter. Section 2 brings down the hammer on a public officer who avails any unauthorized person of classified matter under his custody or control by pronouncing him guilty of an offence. But secrecy in matters of public interest is a violation of the principle of the people's right to know. It is also antithetical to the principles of transparency and accountability in governance. It was Woodrow Wilson, I believe, who said that “everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places and avoids public places and (we believe) it is a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.” WHY FREEDOM OF INFORMATION? There are lots of people who live under the mistaken impression that freedom of information means freedom for the press and the press only. The truth, however, is that it is freedom for all. Often times, we hear people say, the press publishes falsehood (yes but they are an insignificant minority); that they are sensational (yes, some are); that demanding for information concerning activities of government as well as their collaborating TNCs in their environment. This is just one case. Blocked information access has fuelled the arrogance of destructive people, corporations and governments. In this case, public interest is clearly the right of the people to
information on activities in their environment as every activity carried out in their environment affects their chances to survive and live in the best way possible. Section 16 of the FOI bill There must be a delicate balance as to what latitude is given to government to deny access to information. We are concerned that attention is not given to the rights of local communities to protect valuable information of which they may be custodians. Just as subsection [c] considers the right of prior publication of public servants, so should it consider the intellectual property rights of communities and local peoples. Although this may be deduced from subsection [d] it is clearly not transparent enough. One of the sections in the bill for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act before the House of Representatives is the ability of the bill when signed into law to defend the public interest. Public interest could simply be explained as that which is for the good of the community in general. But there is much more to what the public interest is to the different segments of the society over time and their antecedents. Philosophers during the period of enlightenment in the 18th they invade our privacy (yes, but not everyone peeps into someone' bedroom through the keyhole); that they are partisan (yes, some are). But let's not throw away the baby with the bath water. If the press didn't give access to politicians, the human rights activists, students, labour leaders and other groups; if the press didn't stand up to fight military dictatorship we wouldn't have gained a democratic government . It is fair to admit that the way we operate has often exposed us to widespread public misunderstanding and unpopularity and that sometimes we do fall short in terms of level of objectivity, factuality and fairness. The reason is not far to seek. Deteriorating standards of
education and declining economy have led, unfortunately, to a decline in levels of professionalism not only in the media industry but in virtually all professions. But the good thing is that we recognize that even our perceived deficiencies are cured by media pluralism. You can call this day, the golden age of media diversity. In a democracy you need more freedom, not less. More freedom means strengthening of our democratic institutions and values. Less freedom means a drift into authoritarianism and the big bad state from which we exited only recently. FOR FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT TO BE EFFECTIVE For the Freedom of Information Act to be effective and achieve its desired goal there is an urgent need to initiate process of reorienting the attitude of Nigerians to shed off their garb of complacency and wear the apparel of agitation to know how they are being governed. Nigerian leaders have, over the years, capitalized on the complacency, timidity and docility of the people to run the machinery of government based on personal whims and caprices. Nigerians are in the dark about so many issues that have negatively affected their national life. It is imperative to ask questions about activities of the nation's past leaders. THE FOI BILL The proposed FOI Bill or Access to Information Act 2000 had been one piece of legislation that the International Press Centre had been pursuing with determination. Reading from the proposed act itself, there are 34 sections with a four-point indication of the purpose it is to serve. These are that it: • seeks to provide a right of access to public information or records kept by government, public institution and/or private bodies carrying out public functions for citizens of the country.
• will increase the availability of public records and information to citizens of the country
in order to participate more effectively in the making and administration of laws and policies and to promote accountability of public officers.
• seeks to provide for the disclosure of public records or information by public officers
without authorization thereof, provided it is for (the) public interest and such officers are protected from adverse consequences flowing from such disclosure.
is intended to complement and not replace existing procedures for access to public records and information and is not intended to limit in any way access to those types of official information that bring out some salient issues and some of the possible fears that may surround the bill. By itself, the bill is not an isolated piece of legislation as it has an organic link to the constitution. The 1999 constitution provides for the enactment of laws (in section 39) that are reasonably justifiable in a democratic society and promulgation of laws to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The proposed bill is in that sense an attempt to give practical expression to that provision and also to extend the frontiers of freedom of expression.
What the proposed FOIA seeks to do is to eliminate the tendency to violate freedom of expression with respect to the press by bureaucratic or commercial censorship, threats or intimidation of journalists or punishment of devotees of freedom. It is one of the mechanisms of guaranteeing freedom of expression for every individual and the press. This guarantee of access is not absolute as there are areas that may require some degree of control in the interest of defence, public order or safety or health and public morality (Sec 45(3))
Recourse to the Constitution again underlines the need for the FOIA when it provides in section 25 that the media have a responsibility to hold the government accountable to the people. This provision is non-justiciable for the moment, a gap that the bill would contribute in overcoming by giving practical expression to the issue of freedom for the media. The fourth estate status of the press would by the citizenry could not be easily pursued to foster transparency and accountability in government.
REFERENCES Mayor Federico (1998): A paper presented on the occasion of the award of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize World Press Freedom Day. Schmidt Mogens (2007): New Media – Expanding Press Freedom International Commitments Guarantee Media Freedoms, In James Barry (ed) The Press Freedom Dimension Challenges and Opportunities of New Media for Press Freedom Matsuura Koïchiro (2009) Message by Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2008 McQuail, D. 1987. Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications. Peterson, T. 1978. “Why the Mass Media are that Way” (pp. 5-16) in F. Voelker and L. Voelker (eds.), Mass Media: Forces in our Society. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. Siebert. F., T. Peterson and W. Schramm. 1956. Four Theories of the Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.