Illusion And Reality Of Press Freedom In Attaining A True Democratic System Of Government In Nigeria

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This paper examines the illusion and reality of press freedom in attaining a true democratic system of government in Nigeria. Area of the study was Enugu metropolis which comprises of Enugu North and Enugu South, as area considered one of the nerve centres of intense political activities in Nigeria. Data were collected through questionnaire. Survey method was used for this work. Findings show that the illusion and reality of press freedom in attaining a true democratic system of government in Nigeria is rapid and therefore, the government, media organisations and public must work hand-in-hand so that press freedom will be achieved. The study concludes that if a nation must experience development, it must not adhere to material advancement, threats, restrictions and corruption, instead, it should conform to growth, progress and freedom. Press must therefore be free of all sorts of constraints so that press freedom will be made an absolute reality in Nigeria. Also, the government must make sure that the economy of Nigeria is stable so as to meet up with other developed countries across the world. The government should not dictate for the media what to do and or where to cover events.
1.1 Background Of The Study
The term “press freedom” has been over used and there is nothing to be freshly about it that has been mentioned before. One of the internationally acclaimed barometers for measuring the degree of democratic or national development of a policy is the extent which press freedom – one of the inalienable rights of man- is safeguarded. The mass media which is greatly regarded as the fourth estate of a realm, the three others are the executive, legislature and the judiciary. It needs to be emphasized that the mass media have both constitutional and traditional responsibilities to serve as the watchdog of the three arms of government, in all attempt to establish a better polity.
The press in a democratic system of government should ensure that citizens are kept well informed so as to remove the wide gap between the government and the governed. It is only when people are kept adequately informed that they can understand government actions, take active
participation in government activities and broaden their minds on certain policies that affect them either directly or otherwise.
Sawanti, 2002: PS 9-11, it is the role of the media to set agenda. Through this, they set the tone of discussion for important national issues, collate the opinion of the people on the issues and convey the authorities the people‟s approval or otherwise of such issues. Through the investigative journalism, the mass media can expose scams and scandals, anti-social activities, corruption, waste, inefficiency and negligence of the part of the authorities. The mass media can act as an ombudsman on behalf of the people every day.
(The Nigerian freedom of expression community‟s advertorial in tell, September 20, 2004: P47) propounded that the media in the democratic system of government plays three (3) important roles:-
 Inform citizens on matters of public policy and politics by presenting and debating alternatives.
 Act as a watchdog by uncovering political economic and corporate as well as other forms of abuse of power and inept policies.
 Helps to empower citizens to be aware of civic and political right and how to exercise these rights.
Through these roles, the media helps to build and sustain a participatory, transparent and an accountable governance structure.
The word “Freedom” like democracy is a term with a single thread of meaning lying beneath all the varied uses and interpretation which have been made to the term; what exactly then is freedom of press?
In article 19 of 1948 universal declaration of human rights promulgated by the united states actions” it clearly states that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to hold opinions with interference and seek, receive and impact information and ideas through media regardless of frontiers”.
Oloyede: 1996, “the press in a democratic society operates largely under the libertarian and social responsibility concepts”. It is free to report whatever is not expressly forbidden by the law. This implies that the people are free to comment, based on facts and make constructive criticisms of government on a democratic society. It also implies that
journalists and other media practitioners are free to source and disseminate information without fear of intimidation.
Ultimately, the press performs the duty of making the government responsible and accountable to the people in all spheres of national government development.
Peterson 1989: P571 “ Through the freedom accorded to the press and speech differs from nations, generally free press imply freedom of expression without fear of punitive reprisal and consequences”.
The promulgation and enactment of international statues of conventions by the United Nations and different National constitution to protect the freedom of speech and of the press is a demonstration of the priority accorded to their roles. Despite the existence of laws, protecting the press and speech, for some reasons, freedom of expression has been abridging in several ways. One agent of media control is the government. Though National government do prescribe laws and decree for free and responsible press, government officials have often been accused of unwarranted interference in operations of the press and of imposing restrictions on speech.
Nwankwo et al (1993) illustrated that government abridgement of press freedom. During the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shagari, the sanction of the Nigerian television authority, National Assembly correspondent, Vera Ifudu by Shagari‟s information minister for broadcasting details of a scandal alleging the disappearance of N2.8 billion from the account of the Nigerian National Petroleum corporation (NNPC) is a graphic example, still under the Shagari‟s regime of 1979-1983, inspector general of Police, Sunday Adewusi, issued order (unsuccessfully) to the press to submit their publications to his office in advance of circulation.
Bernard Crick (in Oyediran, 1996) describes democracy as everybody‟s mistress that is the fact that democracy has become a part and parcel of thinking and vocabulary being used across borders.
Landsberg (1997), gives credence to the fact as he notes that “democracy” in Africa is a sure recipe for tribalism and was thus, some individuals have argued that what is needed is the type of democracy specially designed to suit the peculiarities of each nation. Because of this belief, some Nigerians have put forth the ideas of “home-grown” democracy as opposed to the western style of democracy as most appropriate for the country.
The government and the press should strike a balance between social responsibility, state security and freedom of the press. The long existing friction where the both bodies (government and press) see each other as arch-enemies should be revisited for the proper reorientation from both sides. The rule of law should be made sacred in very practicable term as well as proper respect for the fundamental human rights. The provision of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigera, section 15,16,17,18 and 20 which provide for political, economic, social, educational, foreign policy and environmental objectives respectively should be given a thorough consideration and implementation. Providing for these objectives will drastically reduce the trends of the press bickering with the government because the reasons for the media agitation to protect the social interest are being taken care of.
Transparency and accountability on the side of the government will considerably ensure if not entirely eliminate the case of the protected place. The press on the other hand should uphold high ethical principles and make social responsibilities its watchdog in a conducive environment of informing. Entertaining, and educating the society along side with the other
functions of the media. This social responsibility concept should be one that the journalist should rationally arrive at.
There are a number of theories that capture the essence of press freedom.
A. Authoritarian Theory
Siebert et al (1956:P42) “truth was conceived not to be the product of the great mass of the people, but of a few wise men that were in a position to guide and direct their fellow”. Thus truth was thought to be centred near the centre of power. The press therefore, functioned from time past to inform the people of what the rulers “thought”, they should know and the policies the rulers thought they should support. With this theory, the government of the monarch was vested with the power to control the ownership and use of the media for mass communication.
Besides, no press dared criticize the monarch, government officials of the political machinery, as the existed principally to support and advance the policies of the monarch and by extension, the government. It is this perception of press freedom that greatly, influenced military government in Nigeria.
B. Libertarian Theory
The argument of its proponents is that man is a thinking independent and a rational animal that is capable of making a choice between what is good and that which is bad. Man, according to Siebert et al (1956) is no longer conceived as a dependent being (as in authoritarian theory) “to be led and directed, rather as a rational being able to discern between a better and worse alternative choices”. Truth is no longer conceived of as the property of power, rather the right to search for truth is one of the alienable natural rights of man..., the press is conceived as a partner in search for truth.
Oloyede (1996: Ps 3-4) identifies three major ingredients of press freedom under libertarianism. One is the assumption of the presence of a multiplicity of voices on public issues at al times. The second components is the absence of state control in the operation of the news media, while the third is the financial independence of the press.
The basic characteristic of press freedom under the libertarian theory is however summed up by Mc Quail (1987: Ps115-116) cited in Sadeeq (1993) they are that
 Publication should be free from any prior censorship by any third party; the act of publication and distribution should be open to a person or group without permit or licence; attack on any government officials or political party (as distinct from attacks on private individuals or treason and breaches of security) should not be punishable, even after the event, there should be no compulsion to punish anything.
 Publication of „errors‟ is protected equally with that of truth in matters of opinion and belief; no restriction should be placed on the collection, by legal means of information for publication; there should be no restriction on export and import or sending or receiving “messages” across national frontiers; journalists should be able to claim a considerable degree of professional autonomy within their organization.
C. Soviet / Communist Theory
The soviet press operated as a tool of the ruling power just as the old authoritarian theory. But unlike the older pattern, it is state owned rather than privately owned. However, in spite of the fact that the soviet press
was being tightly controlled, soviet spokesman thought of their press as free because it is free to say the „truth‟ as the party sees it.
The basic characteristics of press freedom under the soviet/communist theory of the press are that: the press is used instrumentally, that is as an instrument of the state and the party; the media are closely integrated with other instrument of state power and party influence; they are used as instruments of unity within the state and the party; they are almost exclusively as instruments of propaganda and agitation “Agit-props” and they are characterised by district enforced responsibility (Ravitch, 1991).

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Illusion And Reality Of Press Freedom In Attaining A True Democratic System Of Government In Nigeria