AN APPRAISAL OF PRESS FREEDOM IN AFRICAN SOCIETIES (A CASE STUDY OF NIGERIA IN PERIOD OF 1999 – 2003)
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Siebert, Peterson and schramm in describing the Operation of the press in their book entitled four Theories of the press said that, “The press is not an instrument of government but rather a device for presenting evidence and argument on the basis of which the people can check on government and make up their minds as to policy. It is imperative that the press be free from control and influence so that truth can emerge, all ideas can get fair hearing, that there must be a free market place of ideas and information”.
For the press to play their basic roles, it must exercise full its freedom. In other words, for the freedom of the press to be fully appreciated, we must understand the implication of a citizen having a fundamental right to free access to facts in all matters that directly or indirectly concern them and also the right to express and publish its opinion there on.
It is in realization of these facts that the General Assembly of the united Nations organization on December 14 1946 declared that “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touch stone of all freedom to which united nations is consecrated. In the same view a sub-committee of the common wealth press union headed by Lord Shawcross defined freedom of the press as “The freedom that is not a special privilege of newspaper but derives from fundamental right of every person to have full and free access to the facts in all matters that concern him……. In protection of these fundamental human rights, it is essential that the press should be free to gather news without obstruction to publish the news and coment there on.
From the foregoing, it can be argued that any obstruction on the press freedom is not merecy an attack on the press. It is an indirect encroachment on the fundemental right of the citizen to have knowledge and information. in fact, section 38 sub-sections 1 of the 1989 constitution concedes the right to freedom of expression and press by explicitly stating that, “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including. Freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.
Prior to may 29th 1999, the administration of Nigeria was predominated by the military regime. In successive coups begining from July 1966, the military ruled the country. In line with their coercive tendencies which of course sets them up every stratum of the society by those who rule by instrument of coercion. This led to the use of force in carrying out most of the policies that were, however, not spared as in certain cases, headship of most parastatals under government control were change frequently especially those who could not implement such policies. The media as the fourth estate of the realm was not spared from the military obnoxious policies. Their controls which were determined by decrees led to out right closure, permanent. Death, intimidation, etc.
At a point in time, stiffer penalties were imposed on the functions and operation of the press, making the atmosphere very difficult for them to operate. For instance, decrees one and two were introduced by Buhari ldiagbon administration which subverted individual freedom and created social panic Decree enacted in 1984 which was the “public officers protection Against Fals Accusation”, also limited press freedom. These reduced Magazines, newspapers periodicals, radio and television to mere “papper tigers”.
The incessant closure of newspaper organizations like the news watch April 6, 1987, the Punch April 1990, the Guardian May 1991, concord April 1992, tell magazine in August 1993 the champion and vanguard respectively were the order of the day. The hounding of journalists in to jail over reports the government felt unfriendily with including Tude Thompson and Nduka Irabor who were jail under decree in 1987. others include, Chris Okolie, Innocent Okparadike Editor of the Observer in Ben Tony Ikeakonam August 1991 was demoted for using an inappropriate picture of the first lady, Nosa Igiebor, Ononie Whiskey may 1987, Nohammed Haruna 1987, Nduka Obiegbena 1988 etc.
Inundating media houses with threats of closure and assassination of their editors, one of which was the death of Dele Giwa, on 19th October 1986 and the killing of the news reporter at Kano and other cases. Although those regines may not entitely be written off as emenies of the media, they ushered in an atmosphere that led to competition among the various media organizations. Because, research has it that excessive dictatiorial tendencies causes the press to become daring and dedicated to publishing the truth and committed to seeking for its freedom and expounding the peoples right to know. Moreso, they acquire fame and become heroes if they are jailed, harassed or hammed. This, they achieved using these obnoxious policies which never favoured the media, but in which the strived to survive by uncovering the misdeeds of the military to the delights of the society.
It therefore, becomes the survival of the fittest through articles, news stores , features and commentaries that will always sell the product of such media organizations. It reduces some media houses into government megaphone for fear of being intimidated or closed down such media who owe their existence, control and sustenance on the government of the day depended on it for subvention as a means of survival. Mostly affected were the electronic media and some print media owned and controlled by those in power.
Apparently, in pursuance of the democratic doctrine of freedom of speech and of the press, whether we regard it as a natural and inalienable right or not rests upon certain assumptions. One of these states that men desire to know the truth and will be disposed to be guided by it. Another is that the sole method of arriving at the truth in the long run is by the free competition of opinion in the open market. Another is that since man will invariably differ in their opinions, each man must be permitted to urge freel and even strenuously his own opinion provided, he accords to others the same right. And the final assumption is that from neutral toleration and comparison of divese opinions, the one that seems the most rational will emerge and be generally accepted. The above statement could be said to have informed Babangida’s decision to open up or give access to move private participation in information generation and dissemination.
It therefore gave the nod for deregulation in 1989 to the media by issuing operating licensees especially on those who want to own and operate the electronic media. This development led to the establishment of private radio and television houses in the country, thus breaking the electronic media industry.
Coming up on the heels of these regulation were stations like African independence Television (AIT), the minaj, the DBN, Rhythm’ 77, etc. but in spite of these developments, the forture on the media continues; as today, newspaper like the concerd is no longer in existence owing to long period of closure by the military. Likewise some other media houses that were closed down and opened some months before the exit of the military in the governance of the country.
Thomas Jefferson was a philosopher and a statesman who attempted to put his ideas into practice by fusing the liberalism, legalism and traditionalism of England with the more radical rationalism of France. Although as a political figure he suffered greatly from the calcumnies of the press of his time, he held to his conviction that despite his errors and vituperations, “the press, should be subjected to a minimum of interference by the federal government, but he was quik to add that, a government which could not stand up under criticism deserved to fall. And that the real strength of the federal government was his willingness to permit and his ability to withstand public criticisms.
He held that press freedom was implicit in the recognition of the insistent demands for the protection of the individuals from arbitrary power.
To Facilitate this, he maintained that “the individual in the society should be educated and informed. He contended that the press was an essential source of information and guidance, and in order to properly perform its functions, it should be free from state control.
Jefferson therefore, recommended that the first approach towards press freedom was for the enthronement of democracy for the smooth passage of information, ideas, opinions and actions, aimed at, creating, maintaining and increasing the greatest happiness for the greatest number of persons for the good of the society. It would also aim at giving them the liberty of expression, of thinking and to act for themselves.
Consequent upon this, the Nigerian media decide to wade into the struggle fully by promoting those ideas which could be enjoyed by the society under a democratic rule and deonouncing those of the military. It therefore turned out to be a struggle between an “oppressed media” and a government shrouded in promoting of policies that were not of public interest. The impression created then was a polarized media, improverished citizens and a few hawks in the control and dominace of th affairs of society. It therefore heightened the need for the enthronement of democracy, at least for the advancement of the media and other sectors of the economy.
In 1999 therefore, the military quit politics and the leadership of the country was handed to a democratically elected government led by Olusegun Obasanjo. Under this administration, the press may have being said to have an air of freedom in the exercise of its constitutional role as the eye and ear of the society. Although there have been some innovations in the operations of the media that may have resulted of the increase of technology. Enough may not have been achieved in terms of ownership of the media in the last four years of the current administration.
Presently, in the print media industry not much have been achieved while the electronic media may not have achieved any at all. The situation may be attributed to the soaring economic situation that is currently prevailing in the country and the coeritic political nature which does not seem to find or to led a solid foot path for the political stabilization of the society. There is also the feeling of insecurity that has meditated agaist the excellence of economic activities.
Although the administration has done its best in initiating policies that can lead to the protection of industry and manufacturers, especially the local manufacturers, it has not done much in the area of information technology or highway that today is the order of the society in making the world global village.
There are still feelings that the news contents of the media are being doctored to fit or rather to suit the aspiration of those in power. There is also a feeling that the coertic political nature of the society may have polarized the media in such a way that each pursues an agenda favourably to its ethnic origin or its ethnic consideration.
The other school of thought has it that the media have lost bite and is no longer that which fought for the enthronenent of democracy in the country this allowing a lot of mal-practices to have their way into the nations fabric. While most people attribute this to their resolve in supporting the democratic dispensation, some others felt that the media for fear of being intimidated, they have succumbed to the feelings and aspirations of the government.
These issues therefore make this study very important as I will in the following chapters discuss the operations of the media in the current administration of president Olusegun Obasanjo; the attempt will hinge on providing solutions to some of the starting issues posed in this background.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
The study under review has the operations of the press as its epi-centre in the current democratic dispensation of Olusegun Obasanjo. I am going to look at some of the polices that have undermined the social responsibility of the press, as well as policies that have favoured the activities of the press in the said administration.
Is the word press freedom in existence in the true sphere of life and if so, how does it function? Or are they determined by the kind of government in operation from society to society?
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
1. To understudy the problems militating against press freedom in Nigeria.
2. To understudy how the press has operation in Nigeria since 1999.
3. To understudy what the future holds for the press in the event of discontinued governance of president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The results achieved here will enable me to say in concrete terms whether the press should be left free or should not be left free in the discharge of their statutory functions.
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study is signicant in view of the negative feelings the present administration has received from its citizens and the belief that has press have played into the hands of government. But it no longer carries her activities in line with the constitution that set them up. Also is the fact that the present administration tends to intimidate the press on their activities, thus lending credence to the allegation that the press have been bought over.
1.5 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The basic assumption is that the press in any society is the ear and eyes of such society; it means that the society reposes its confidence in the ability of the media. For this, bringing the activities of the people to the government and that of the government to the people is a sacred duty which must be carried out with all amount of responsibility. But the argument lies to whether these responsibilities are carried out to the satisfaction of the masses on one hand and government on the other. Again is the issue of who controls the media; for this the research questions will aim at exposing, assessing the performance of the media, the atmosphere in which they operate, even in the current dispensation and the freedom exists in Nigeria.
i. Whether press freedom exists in Nigeria, to what extent is the freedom applicable to the government and to the media.
ii. Having the media compromised in the discharge of their statutory obligations
iii. What is the extent of influence of the government in the activities of the media?
iv. Under civilian rule, have the media lived up to expectations?
v. The media are said to be agenda setters, how far have they gone in this responsibility?
1.6 RESEARCH HYPOTHESIS
HI: Civilian rule will foster brighter prospect for the media.
HO: Civilian rule will not foster brighter prospects for the media.
H2: The media have thrived well in this dispensation than any other civilian rule.
HO: The media have not thrived well in this dispensation than any other civilian rule.
H3: Press freedom is guaranteed under civilian rule.
HO: Press freedom is not guaranteed under civilian rule.
H4: The press is used as instrument of government under civilian rule.
H0: The press is not used as instrument of government civilian rule.
H5: Government uses the press to pursue her own agenda than that of the masses under civilian rule.
HO: Government does not use the press to pursue her own agenda than that of the masses under civilian rule.
HO: Government does not use the press to pursue her own agenda than that of the masses under civilian rule
H6: The media are presently being controlled by the Obasanjo’s administration.
HO: The media are not presently being controlled by the Obasanjo’s administration.
1.7 DEFINITION OF TERMS
This refers to the assessment of an expert opinion on the value of an issue such as freedom.
This is refered to as the fundamental right of every person to have fress access to the fact in all matters that directly or indirectly concerns him and from his equal right to express and publish his opinion there on and to hear and read opinion of others. In protection of these fundamental rights, it is essential that the press should be free to gather news without obstruction, to publish the news and comment there on.
This refers to the exercise of power or authority over a given society or country which does not have its roots or foundations from the armed forces.
This refers to the exercise of political authority over the actions, affairs, etc, of a political unit or people as well as the performance of certain function for this unit or body.