Why is Press Freedom Necessary in Nigeria?

Why is Press Freedom Necessary in Nigeria?
By Prof Umar A. Pate

This year’s WPD could not be celebrated with the normal activities globally because of the Covid-19 Pandemic ravaging humanity. In Nigeria, the current situation has revealed the quality of leadership at different levels in the country and exposed the underlining ailments in our system. The situation has also highlighted the great role of journalists and the inevitable need for their independence, safety and freedom to operate, giving credence to the saying that when the media does well, the society does well. However, the media cannot do well without operational freedom to gather, process and disseminate information in the interest of the society.

Free media is essential in the development of nations as it remains the strongest safeguard against the dark side of power, particularly unaccountable power. The Nigerian Constitution is clear on its assigned responsibility to the media to keep the government accountable to the people. With accountability, there will be transparent application of public resources and protection of the sanctity of human rights of citizens.

Freedom of information develops knowledge and promote justice, fairness and participatory democracy that can translate in qualitative development. Equally, freedom of the “written word’’ increases confidence of the people in their governments. Absence of it can also mean the reverse. And, this is why the country needs expansive media freedom for credible journalism guided by professional ethics; rooted in investigative journalism to provide independent editorial content. As has been severally noted, public trust in the media is a function of editorial independence.

Similarly, the advent of the internet has brought with it limitless advantages and a sharp rise in attacks on the truth propagated as fake news, misinformation and hate speech. All over our nation, the internet or specifically, the social media has been used as dark channels to misinform, misdirect and brainwash the populace. Hence, the need for trusted media brands to have the freedom and professional capacity to fact check and inform the public correctly. If not, the society will be doomed to misrule, impunity and retrogression.

Furthermore, independent and free media are threats to dictators, corrupt elements and perpetrators of impunity. With an independent minded media, dictators can be checked. Dictators endanger the country’s democratic credentials, cause instability and get the population disenchanted. Often, dictators begin by attacking journalists to subdue them not to rise against their impunity and fangs of misrule on the public. By attacking press freedom and endangering the safety of journalists, they threaten and perpetuate fear in society. Once, they succeed in their negative acts, society degenerates and retrogression sets in. In this context, the most important antidote and safeguard is freedom of expression to allow the people to express their aspirations and frustrations than for them to be constrained to resort to subversive tendencies.

But we are also conscious of the challenges to freedom of expression in the country. With high poverty rate, poor governance, corruption, extreme inequality, low quality education and pervasive illiteracy compounded by unemployment and prevalent ethnic and religious discrimination perpetuated by the ruling elite, citizens are pauperized, pulverized and traumatized not to bother with issues of civil rights like freedom of expression; instead, they concentrate their energies on how to escape from the demons of poverty, misrule and injustice wrecked on them by the rulers. And, where courageous voices dare to challenge such negative acts by expressing alternative opinions, the official weight of the system is deployed to crush such dissenters.

It is, therefore, important for all of us to continuously exercise eternal vigilance and safeguard the freedom of expression in the form of media freedom and protection of the safety of journalists as strategies for societal freedom from corruption, misrule and total decay that have enveloped Nigeria and arrested its development for many decades. As argued by Amartya Sen, freedom is development.

Umaru A. Pate is a professor of Media and Society, Pioneer Dean Faculty of Communication, and the current Dean, school of Post-Graduate Studies, Bayero University, Kano.

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