Media leaders and scholars in Nigeria have said free access to information and the promotion of ethical journalism will enhance the capacity of the Nigerian media to provide information that will serve the public good. They spoke to NDR on this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), with the theme, ‘Information for Public Good’. This year’s celebration is
Media leaders and scholars in Nigeria have said free access to information and the promotion of ethical journalism will enhance the capacity of the Nigerian media to provide information that will serve the public good.
They spoke to NDR on this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), with the theme, ‘Information for Public Good’.
This year’s celebration is the 30th since the idea of WPFD was sponsored by UNESCO and adopted by the United Nations following a global media conference in May 1991 in Windhoek, Namibia, which made a declaration on ‘An Independent and Pluralistic African Media’.
Both the Editor of The Nation, Mr. Niyi Adesina and the General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Leman Shuaibu said the public good is any action that can be in the overall interest to the people or the citizens and therefore the media can play a role in providing information that will lead to it.
Mr. Abdulrahman Abdulrauf who is the Editor of Blueprint newspaper also described public good as “the good and services which are beneficial to the people”. According to him, this is usually put in place by the government even though individuals and corporate bodies can also compliment same’.
Editor of ThisDay, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi, is in agreement with the other editors on what public good stands for. He sees public goods as services for the well-being of all members of the society as being provided by the government such as law enforcement, social services, electricity and clean water.
However, in order for the media to provide information that will serve the public good, a lecturer at the Bayero University, Kano, Dr. Ruqqayah Aliyu, said journalists should have unhindered access to information and in turn disseminate the information in a professional and ethical manner.
A student journalist, Emmanuella Lekwauwa said one way of doing this is for the media to disseminate value-based information for the consumption of heterogeneous audiences. She added that the media should also provide information that will help in influencing other people to create their own content for the good of the society.
Mr. Adesina also explained that the media can provide information to serve the public good through thorough reports and analysis of events and issues in the polity as they unfold. He further said that the support the media needs from the government is “by making information about its activities available to the media and to guarantee the freedom of the press as stated in the constitution with the government allowing dictates of the constitution as regards freedom of the press to prevail’’.
Mr. Abdulrauf believes the media can provide information to citizens through its social responsibility role where both the government and the governed are held accountable in the management of what constitutes the public good.
In this regard, Mr. Adebiyi said the media should monitor and report activities of all agencies particularly the government who have responsibilities of providing for the well being of the society with emphasis on how they carry out their tasks and if they are performing their tasks or not. He therefore called on the government to support the media to provide information for public good through effective laws.
“A lot of laws are not effectively managed like the law on access to information. Freedom of information Act should be implemented by establishing a proper desk office in all public offices and encouraging its officers to provide the necessary information to journalists and members of the public”, Mr. Adebiyi said.
Dr. Aliyu agrees with Mr. Adebiyi, stating that the judicial system should be strengthened in such a way that matters would be decided within the shortest possible time, while special FOI courts could be effective in this case. She also said that Journalists should on their own push further and ensure that the Journalism Enhancement Bill comes to reality. Ms. Lekwauwa equally agrees that there should be laws that will guide how the media works as well as laws that will not allow any form of ill-treatment against journalists.
In his own case, the NUJ Secretary, Mr. Shuaibu said that the major support needed by the media is for the government to provide and promote a conducive working environment to allow journalism to be successful. “Access and access to the right information is what the media needs from the government to be able to disseminate information that will serve the public good”, he emphasised.
In terms of obstacles to press freedom, Dr. Aliyu and Mr. Adebiyi said they include proprietary interest or what they call ‘one-man interest’ ownership’, insufficient access to information and lack of effective regulations that can protect access to information and ensure that media keep up with professional and ethical standards. For Ms. Lekwauwa, the obstacles are secrecy, legal pressure and direct censorship.
Since the major obstacle to press freedom in Nigeria is lack of information on the activities of the government as a result of the official secret act, the editors said there should be more transparency on how government activities are run while the people’s right to know should be respected. They also said openness and a regulatory framework that protects access to information and exercise of professional standards and ethics are necessary solutions.
The objectives of World Press Freedom Day include creating awareness on the importance of freedom of the press, and remind governments of their duties to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as contained in Article 19 of 1948 universal declaration of human rights.
It is also meant to mark the anniversary of Windhoek, Namibia declaration of 1991 with the same country hosting the 30th edition of the WPFD. A fresh declaration to be called Windhoek 30+ is expected later today.
Other countries that have hosted Press Freedom Day include England in 1998 with the theme “Press Freedom is a Cornerstone of Human Rights.”; Columbia 1999: “Turbulent Eras: Generational Perspectives on Freedom of the Press.”; Switzerland, 2000: “Reporting the News in a Dangerous World: The role of the media in conflict settlement, reconciliation and peace-building”.
In 2001, Namibia hosted the 10th edition on “Combating racism and promoting diversity: the role of free press.” to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. The occasion was marked by the signing of the African Charter on Broadcasting.
In 2016, Finland hosted WPFD under the theme “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms” to mark the 250th anniversary of the first Access to Information law in the world. Ghana hosted the 2018 edition that focused on “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law” while it was the turn of Ethiopia in 2019 with the theme: “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”. The Hague hosted the 2020 edition on “Journalism without Fear”.