By: Esther Oguntuase
The press is quite equivalent to the nature of water which is an indispensable part of human life and its existence which implicitly calls the shots in the decision-making process of both the people and the government. Reasons being that it is the string between the hierarchical members of the society.
The press is recognized as the fourth estate of the realm since its emergence and now, it still maintains this nomenclature due to its relevant role by working alongside the three other arms of government as a body that stands to check, legislate, and maintaining a stable, sane and functioning society.
Nigeria, as it’s constitutionally stated operates on the principle of democracy and social justice. Therefore, Government is required to serve the people and this can be done through accountability, effective communication, and dissemination of information which is the major duty of the press.
To work successfully on this path, just as provided by section 39, chapter four, article 22 of the constitution of Nigeria, the press is at all times free to uphold the fundamental objective of the constitution and highlight the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. Hence, they act as a link and lead in educating citizens about their rights and facts provided by the authorities.
Also stated in the constitution is that every person is entitled to freedom of expression and to hold opinions, receive ideas and information without any hurdle. Unfortunately, things have fallen apart as the press is systematically being constrained in performing their divine activities.
No press in the world has enjoyed absolute freedom, judging by the recent and subsequent series of events that have unfolded, the Nigerian press cannot be regarded as a free one even though the constitution made a clear provision for its autonomy.
Mr. Sodiq Ojuroungbe, the editor of platform times assert his notion on this and said the press in other countries is faced with challenges as well but the situation of the Nigeria press seems to be more complex and difficult due to the level of poverty which is very high accompanied by other factors like ownership, legal pressure, direct censorship, etc.
He further explained that poverty is a major obstacle in every sector in Nigeria with no exclusion from the media. “Poverty can hinder the truthfulness in the flow of information which is an impingement on the entitlement of the press to be free.”
He added that the payment of journalists’ salaries, provision of independent media in terms of ownership to shut out external influence, and the review of government’s policies are the only solutions to attain a free and independent press in Nigeria.
Mr. Adejumo Kabir, the assistant head of southwest operations at premium times disclose that ‘members of the press are not really free in Nigeria’ and they are also a bit free because the press is still able to carry out their responsibilities in a bid to hold the government accountable as provided by the constitution but on the other hand, the press is not free because of the actions taken by the Nigeria government towards the press.
He cited an example of the recent event of NBC trying to suspend channels Tv and Arise television based on an interview with IPOB members which is against the provision of the constitution as stated that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression.
He also stated that the arrest of pressmen is a clear indication of the press without liberty and that non-adherence to the law is also a major challenge as there is no respect for the law.
He added that journalists must as well shun ‘brown envelope journalism. “Media houses should employ competent hands that can point out errors, right the wrongs in society, and use their pen to demand change and justice. Journalists should also be adequately paid to guide their decision against inappropriate practices.”
Adesola Ikulajolu; a campus journalist at Adekunle Ajasin University said that Nigeria is short of a free press because journalists are always being attacked and threatened. Press freedom is a builder of society and once it is rooted in a society, it gives room for developmental journalism.
He added that with the full entrenchment and recognition of press freedom, and the obedience to it, an independent press can be achieved.
Ejiro Umukoro, a media executive, investigative journalist, and media mentor explain that press freedom in Nigeria is a mixed bag of constraints in some areas because the legislative arm of government which is responsible for the review of the law is beginning to hijack its responsibility and abuse their privilege in the manner which they try to intimidate the press so that the Nigeria press act can be reviewed in a certain manner.
She said… “There should not be a mix-up in each arm’s functions. The press should not be toyed with because they check the excess and also report the other arms of government.”
She emphasizes that the principle of checks and balances should spell out any problems of any arm of Government and one should not interfere with the other.
She added that the nature of journalism goes with risk as it deals with the business of truth.
“You have to stand for something and fight for something. In journalism and journalists in general, the goal is to understand our job as the watchdog, exposing the truth and protecting citizens from propaganda”.