Continuing our discussion of the above topic, in the last episode, we explored the Role of CSOs and the Ways/Means and Modalities of Creating an Umbrella body for them.
The themes of today’s analysis are: the Role of the Media (conclusion); the Source of Press Freedom, and the Character of the Nigerian Media. Please, read on.
The Media (Continues)
We are not crusading for an unregulated freedom of speech and the press, which will erect the press unto a monstrous pedestal of ungovernability, uncheck ability and unaccountability.
For as revered Justice Holmes of the United States Supreme Court once put it in Schneck v U.S.
“the most stringent protection of free speech, would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic”.
What we do insist on, is that if the press has been specifically obligated under the Constitution to make the Government accountable to the governed, then it becomes crystal clear that the latitude of freedom of speech accorded the press under the same Constitution, is grossly inadequate when compared with this onerous responsibility and duties constitutionally imposed on it.
In any paper or discussion on the effective performance of Media in the discharge of statutory functions, not much can be achieved without laying emphasis on press freedom and how it came about.
The Source of Press Freedom
Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, provides as follows;
(1)“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2)“Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions: Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorised by the President on the fulfilment of conditions laid down by an Act of National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever”.
(3)“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 cinematograph films; or
b) Imposing restrictions 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 other Government Security services or agencies established by law”.
There are certain issues to be noted in this quotation, before we continue our discussion.
First there is no special or privileged freedom granted to the press or Journalists, over and above that accorded “every person” in the society.
Secondly, the plentitude of the freedom is categorically enlarged to include “freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart ideas and information”.
Thirdly, this freedom is to be enjoyed “without interference”.
Fourth, “every person”, including Journalists, Lawyers, Doctors, Students, Labourers, Market Women, Fish and Plantain sellers etc., can “establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions”.
Fifthly, a law in Nigeria will not be invalidated, if it is justifiable in a “democratic society”. And, it will be so justifiable if its only aim and objective is merely to prevent “the disclosure of information received in confidence” amongst others. It is this section which also protects civil servants and members of the Armed Forces and Police from disclosing official secrets to members of the public.
Whilst Section 36 of the Constitution merely gives equal right to Journalists and other Nigerians alike, the same Constitution curiously imposes on Journalists, specific duties not otherwise requested of other Nigerians. Specifically, Section 22 of the 1999 constitution provides as follows:
“ 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”.
If the Constitution carves the press into a sentinel to watch over the Government, and compel its accountability to the people, it is baffling and inexplicable why duties should be given without the corollary power or authority of enforcing those duties. This tacit sign of approbation and reprobation, marks the beginning of the problems of the press, which of late, has ingeniously and innovatively embarked upon a different genre of guerilla Journalism to wrench from the Government, powers that ought ordinarily to have been specifically guaranteed under the Constitution. And, in this, the press has shown beyond doubt that independence, whatever type, including that of Journalist, is not given on a platter of gold, but, is fought for and won through sweat, pains, pangs and blood.
For the utmost benefit of nurturing of our nascent democracy and credible conduct of general elections in Nigeria, the media has tried so much in spite of arm twisting constitutional provisions. The brilliant performance of the media since the heydays of sit-tight Military and Civilian dictators in our polity between 1979 and 2007, shows that the Nigerian media is living up to society’s expectations.
In 1993, the media played a key role in reporting the series of incidents that eventually forced the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida Government out of power. Similarly, the press performed the brinkmanship task of checkmating the tyrannical rule of Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime between 1993 and 1998. During the tail-end of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second presidential-tenure in 2007, a number of his well-wishers attempted to make him amend the Nigerian Constitution, so as to get a third re-election into office as President; but, the vibrant and visible reporting of events by the media, to a large extent, helped in truncating that anti-democratic desire.
Since 1993 to date, the media deserves a lot of commendation in the reporting of political events, military’s incursion in power, nurturing of democratic governments and visible presence during the conduct of general elections, bi-elections, re-run elections and brave reporting of happenings in at various election tribunals and courts. The victorious emergence of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, of Action Congress, as Governor of Edo State and Olusegun Mimiko, of the Labour Party as Governor of Ondo State, both declared Governors by electoral tribunals, became a sign of better things to come in the Nigerian Polity. The media has actually come a long way in the unbiased reporting of democracy, political events and general elections in Nigeria.
During the Gubernatorial elections held in Anambra State on Saturday, 6th of February, 2010, (in which this writer participated as an observer), the press partook in recording accurately the election conduct history made in that election. The media openly welcomed all the 25 gubernatorial aspirants without any bias, as photographs and campaign manifestos flooded many newspaper publications prior to the election. Television and radio jingles by these aspirants, were heard and seen in local and national radio and television stations. Media houses deserve commendation in the prompt reporting of political and election events in Anambra’s guber-race. Within 24 hours after the voting exercise, the Anambra indigenes were told who won the gubernatorial elections.
On the field, the Media armed with their cameras, recording equipment and Patrol Vans were seen all over the place in Anambra State, trying to get accurate details of thuggery, ballot box snatching, any form of rigging or electoral malpractice. The high security personnel provided by government, the transparent manner INEC staff conducted themselves, the brilliant performance of INEC monitoring team and observers and the unbiased reporting by Media, have turned out to be the major factors which made Anambra State (February 6th , 2010), gubernatorial elections a huge success.
Character of the Nigerian Media
During the first Republic in Nigeria, between 1960 and 1966, there were ten newspapers. Daily Times (Lagos), West African Pilot (Lagos), Nigeria Citizen (Kaduna), The Outlook (Enugu), The Eastern Guardian (Port-Harcourt), Sketch (Ibadan), The Tribune (Ibadan), The Express (Lagos), Morning Post (Lagos), The Spokesman (Onisha) and the Observer (Benin). There were also the weeklies like the Drum, the spear and the spectator, all published in Lagos. The Federal Government (then in Lagos), and each of the regional Governments (in Benin, Enugu, Ibadan and Kaduna) had radio and television stations.
Of the print media, Daily Times, The West African Pilot, Eastern Guardian, The Spokesman and Tribune were privately owned. Nigerian Citizen, The Outlook, The Sketch, The Daily Express, Morning Post and the Observer were Government owned newspapers. Apart from the Daily Times, the owners of the other privately owned newspapers were deeply involved in partisan politics. Most of these partisan newspapers owners used their media houses to get to Government House, and upon getting there, they usurped other media houses belonging to government for their own personal aggrandisement.
Also, the most successful politicians belonged to the major ethnic groups in the country-Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba. The Nigerian regional leaders, during this time, used all the electronic and print media organs within reach, to fan embers of ethnicity and personal political aspirations. The posture of both the government and private media, demonstrated that the interest of the major ethnic group was synonymous with the interest of the region. What this development resulted into, was that, the minor ethnic groups which constitute the plural society, because they neither owned or had access to media organs, had no voice and opportunity for self-expression.
The media, during the democratic experiment of the Second Republic in Nigeria, 1979 to 1983, was made up of electronic medium, which within this period, was either State or Federal owned. However, this situation has since altered, with the emergence of Raymond Dokpesi’s Daar Communication PLC, (the first Nigerian private broadcast group that operates AIT and Ray Power FM); John Momoh’s Channels TV; Nduka Obaigbena’s Thisday and Arise TV; Sam Amuka Pemu’s Vanguard; Ibru’s Guardian; Aboderin’s Punch; Asiwaju’s TVC and Nation; Sam Ndah Isaiah’s Leadership; Eric Osagie’s ThisNigeria; Kabiru Yusuf’s Trust; Ben Bruce’s Silverbird TV; Orji Uzor Kalu’s Sun and Telegraph; etc. Indeed, a new generation of online publications have since emerged to challenge the orthodox print and electronic media. Such are Sahara Reporters, Premium Times, Gazette, Blue Print, News-on-the-Go of Ise-Oluwa Ige; Dele Momah’s Boss, etc. (To be continued).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“Society cannot exist without law. Law is the bond of society: that which makes it, that which preserves it and keeps it together. It is, in fact, the essence of civil society”. (Joseph P. Bradley)