The effort to amend the NBC and NPC acts currently before the National Assembly is a direct affront on freedom of the press to report government activities to the citizen.
That affront is both a threat to democracy and a threat to human dignity and progress. Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician, nor is it the privilege of the journalist.
In their work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech. A free press is fundamental to a democratic society.
It seeks out news, and circulates it, shares information, ideas, comments and opinion. The press works to hold those in authority to account.
The press provides the necessary platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog and guardian as well as citizen educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.
Freedom of expression is a foundation for many other rights. Freedom of expression is a right and is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment.
An effective media depends on the legal basis that freedom of expression gives. The press in a democracy has the right to function, to report freely, sometimes critically, without threat or fear of censure. However, Freedom of expression is not an absolute right: it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. That said, many other rights which are intrinsic to our daily lives build on and intersect with this protection for free thought and individual expression.
Freedom of expression covers everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations in your own home. It’s a fundamental human right, which allows for citizens to speak freely and without interference. A free press helps inform the public. Knowledge is power. In print, on line, or on TV or radio: without a free exchange of information, people can’t be fully aware of what’s going on around them and so can’t meaningfully participate in their communities or democracies.
When freedom of expression is respected and recognised, the media are able to freely report on politics, economics and societal events as they occur. A well informed voter is the guarantee to a stronger democracy. A democratic society hinges on the people being able to hold informed opinions and express them both in voting booths and more broadly in their day-to-day lives. It’s important that people are able to ask through the media, tough questions of the people whom they voted into power. Also through the press, the people find out about decisions which affect them and their fellow citizens.
Freedom of expression is a core value in the democratic process. It ensures people are able to discuss, exchange, and debate ideas.
Through the media and through public debate freedom of expression supports the development of informed citizens and voters. Freedom of expression is crucial to the process of participating in a democracy. It influences everything from newspapers to social media posts and campaign adverts. By allowing voters to make their voices heard and make educated choices about the topics which matter to them, freedom of expression strengthens democracies.
Freedom of expression supports and protects the press’s ability to freely research and report in the public interest. An independent press can hold powerful interests to account. A strong, independent media ensures transparency and helps reduce maladministration. Freedom of expression protects the rights of reporters, bloggers and news outlets and the general public to speak critically. Without freedom of expression, reporting is restrained. In places where freedom of expression is not respected the media face a choice; self-censor or put yourself at risk.
When the media cannot accurately tell the whole story, it’s impossible to achieve balanced, high quality journalism. In countries where the media are pressured to only report on news favorable to governments, journalists are forced to self-censor. They are forced to report on ‘safer’ topics. Some brave journalists continue to report on topics of citizen interest, regardless of censorship, they often risk fines, prison sentences or violence. A respect for freedom of expression is an essential element for a functioning and accurate media.
As of today In Nigeria, journalists are harassed for doing their job. In its assessment of Press Freedom across the world, the annual World Press Freedom Index, recently released showed that Nigeria has dropped five points in ranking. From its 115 rank in 2020, it was recently ranked 120 by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the organisation that has, since 2002, been publishing the yearly World Press Freedom Index.
The index ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.
In its analysis on Nigeria, RWB said Nigeria is now one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed.
While the government of the day claimed that Nigerian media enjoys freedom to operate, its actions show otherwise. A typical example of the government’s true intention towards the media is reflected on the draconic amendment of the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) and NBC (Media) Act amendment Bills which the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria have rightly described as government’s quest for ‘information blackout.’ “This is what the federal government wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment Bills. It’s not just about the media…it’s about society’s right to know, your right to be heard,” the media stakeholders say in their widely circulated front page public awareness campaign published yesterday by most newspaper organisations in the country.
Before now, the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) had asked the House of Representatives to drop the bill seeking to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act. The NPO objected to the bill during a public hearing in June organised by the House Committee on Information, Culture, Ethics and Values.
The body said 17 out of the 39 clauses in the bill are parts of litigation since 1999 and recounted that the eight Senate also dropped the bill due to the pending litigation. However, in his response, the chairman of the committee, Olusegun Olatubosun (APC, Oyo) said the court process would not stop the committee from discharging its constitutional function of making laws. The Executive Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Lanre Arogundade, said section three of the proposed bill would make the “media the department of the federal ministry of information.” He wondered how a code of professional conduct for the media could become subject to the approval of the ministry or any other political authority. “The provision of section 3(d) constitutes a potential threat to press freedom and media survival as it does not provide for judicial intervention before highly punitive measures are handed down by the council and indeed could be used as a political weapon against the media. Furthermore, It is a matter that has been pending in court since 1999. In 2010 the high court ruled that 17 out of the 39 clauses in the bill were unconstitutional. The federal government then appealed and got a ruling in December 2010. That ruling was again appealed by the NPO and it is still pending at the supreme court.”
Despite all the shortcomings of the Bills in respect to its violations of press freedom, the government appears determined to push this media gag law through. This is the reason why all Nigerians must rise and join the NUJ, NGE, and NPAN to ensure that press freedom as a foundation of democracy is not tampered with or abrogated in any way! Aluta Continua!