CHALLENGES OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION BILL TO THE BROADCAST MEDIA
The Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) is a bill that, if passed into law, will give every Nigerian access to information, records and documents held by government bodies and private bodies carrying out public functions.
It applies to all arms of government: the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary as well as to all tiers of government: Federal, State and Local Governments.
So far, Nigeria has no law which guarantees citizens access to public records and information. On the contrary, many Nigerian laws have secrecy clauses prohibiting the disclosure of information e.g. the official secrets Act, the Criminal Code, the Penal code e.t.c.
Restricting access to vital information starves the press of the legal authority to publish or broadcast what they know to be true. The Nigerian press has for many years been accused of sensationalism as against fact-based journalism because their reports appear to be unbacked with evidence.
The FOI Bill has gone through three readings and a public hearing and has been passed by the lower chamber of the National Assembly, and at the Senate, it has also passed through three readings and a public hearing awaiting harmonization and presidential assent to become law.
1.1 HISTORY OF CASE STUDY
In February 1962, the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria known as BCNN was born. It was commissioned on 15th March, 1962. BCNN was established by the premier of the then Northern region, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Late Sir Ahmadu Bello. He wanted a medium through which he could sell his government’s policies and bring development to the whole of the north, because he felt that the existing Radio Station, the NBC was not giving adequate coverage to his government and indeed the activities of the Northern region. The Station started in monochrome. In 1963, the RTK (Radio Television, Kaduna) arm was established the combination was known and still remained as RTK (Radio Television Kaduna).
The television arm was excised from the former Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria (BCNN) with Decree No. 24 of May 1977 which took effect retrospectively from 1st April, 1976.
The station has two (2) 10KW transmitters: Larcan Transmitter installed in April, 1994 and Rhodes and Schwarz (R & S) installed in year 2000, both transmitters are located at No. 99 Isa kaita Road, Kaduna.
Objectives of NTA
The NTA derives its objectives from the overall aims of broadcasting in Nigeria. As a medium of communication, television seeks to enrich life of the average Nigerian by influencing positively his social, cultural, economic, political, and technological thinking. It also brings him news and information about national issues. Besides this, it serves as a source of entertainment. Television promotes cultural awareness and seeks to preserve Nigeria’s rich culture. Through the medium, artistic and intellectual creativity are developed. Therefore, all programmes and coverage should be audience – oriented and guided by the nation’s social, political, moral, cultural, scientific, educational and economic goals.
NTA’s Vision and Mission
“To be a World-Class television Network”
“To provide excellent television services worldwide and project the true African perspectives.”
The station (NTA Kaduna) has six departments
The Programmes Department is responsible for planning and producing programmes for transmission; the programs types are light entertainment, drama, variety and documentary.
The department is also responsible for all OB coverages and contributions to networks programmes.
– News Department
The News department is responsible for News and Current Affairs Programmes. It is statutorily vested with the responsibility of gathering and broadcasting News from all sources within the country some of its star programmes are News World, Weekend Panorama, Guests of the Week and Issues of the Moment.
– Engineering Department
The department is responsible for the maintenance of all equipment and daily transmission of programmes. As a Zonal Centre, it contributes to transmission of network programmes. It is equipped to cover and transmit live programmes from any location within the zone.
– Administrative Department
The department is the human resource and personnel arm of the station. It is in charge of policy interpretation and implementation.
– Finance Department
The finance department manages the finances of the station.
– Marketing Department
The marketing department is responsible for the marketing and advertising activities of the station.
Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Kaduna is located in the heart of the city at No. 7 Yakubu Gowon Way, Kaduna.
The station has staff strength of Ninety – Seven (97).
1.2 Statement of General Problem
For over eight years, the protagonists of the Freedom of Information Bill have been toiling to it get passed at the National Assembly. The bill was presented initially in 1999 when the return to democratic governance heightened the expectations that there will be increased disposition towards freer information access by those in power.
By August 2004, the House of Representatives passed the Freedom of Information Bill and two years later by 2006, the Senate by a consensus vote passed the same bill.
The general problem is that corruption in Nigeria is endemic, pervasive and deep-rooted in the nation’s polity.
How easy will it be for the people who are corrupt to be the same people called upon to eliminate/minimize corruption? Unless the lid is opened on the activities of corrupt public officials, it is most likely to abate.
1.3 Aims and Objectives of the Study
This study shall highlight some of the challenges the delay in the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill pose to the Nigerian media with particular focus on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) Kaduna.
Some of these challenges include:
· Depriving the media the legal authority to publish what they know to be true.
· Deprives the media the right to publish or broadcast fact-based reports.
· Causing a major set-back to the growth of Nigeria’s democracy because the most official transactions, both in the public and private sectors are shrouded in secrecy.
The research will however provide a premise for the applicability of the findings to other Nigerian media.
1.4 Hypothesis and Research Questions
H1: FOI Bill will provide legal access to individuals for public information.
H2: The FOI Bill will promote transparency and accountability in governance.
H3: The FOI Bill will give the broadcast media the legal backing to transmit public information.
H4:The FOI will guides against the misuse of accessed public information.
H5: The FOI Bill gives the broadcast media total control of accessed information.
R1:What are the challenges the FOI Bill pose to the broadcast media?
R2: What are the legal loop holes that the FOI Bill covers, that the constitution does not cover?
R3: What are the benefits of FOI Bill?
1.5 Focus, Scope and Limitations
This study shall highlight the benefits the broadcast media would derive from the bill. It will also look at the challenges (if any) the bill will present to the broadcast media.
This study shall also review the constitutional provisions to access of information and the limitations it presents.
1.6 Theoretical Framework
This study shall be guided by the libertarian and the democratic participant media theory.
The libertarian theory later re-labeled “free press theory” is hinged on the perception for increased freedom for press. Liberal philosophers like John Stuart Mill and Milton greatly advanced the advocacy for free press.
In the main, libertarian theory prescribes that an individual and by extension the press should be free to hold and express opinions freely and publish same. The theory does not see the need for censorship since it acknowledges the great potentials of humans as rational being who can distinguish between truth and falsehood.
The theory does not advocate press immunity to the rule of law and the canons of civilized social conduct. It also advocates that the press be seen as partner with government in the search of truth, rather than a tool in the hands of government. It also advocates that:
– Publication should be free from any prior censorship by any third party.
– No restrictions should be placed on the collection by legal means of information for publication.
– The act of publication and distribution should be open to a person or group without permit or license.
– There should be no compulsion to publish.
– There should be no restriction on exporting or importing sending or receiving of messages across national frontiers.
Pool (1973) asserted that; “no nation will indefinitely tolerate a freedom of the press that serves to divide the country and open the floodgates of criticisms against the freely chosen government that leads it.
Mcquail (1983) prescribed that the solution to the question of press freedom could be to free the press from adverse censorship while at the same time leaving it answerable to the law for any consequence of its activities that infringe other individual right of the legitimate claim of the society.
Democratic participant media theory is yet another theory developed by Mcquail in the event of the earlier theories to deliver the social benefits expected of them.
This theory is hinged on the insistence that the present bureaucracy as well as commercial and professional hegemony in the media be broken down so as to guarantee easier media access for all users and consumers.
The theory represents people’s disillusionment against a media system that is over monopolized, centralized and elitist. The theory calls for greater attention to the needs, interests and aspirations of the receiver in a political society. In the place of monopolization, it calls for pluralism; in place of centralism, it advocates decentralization and localism. It insists that media conglomerates be replaced or at least juxtaposed with small scale media enterprises.