By Fred Nwaozor
The World Press Freedom Day was marked May 3. The Press can be described as the news media and agencies collectively, especially newspapers and magazines. In the same vein, Press freedom is the freedom the press and its personnel have to communicate and express their views through the media, including print and electronic. While such freedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state, its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections.
With respect to government information, any government may distinguish the materials that are meant to be public from the ones to be protected based on classification of the information as sensitive, secret, and being otherwise protected from disclosure due to its relevance to protecting the national interest. Many governments are also subject to laws or freedom of information legislation that are used to define the ambit of national interest.
The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference as well as impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. This philosophy is usually accompanied by legislation ensuring various degrees of freedom such as freedom of scientific research known as ‘scientific freedom’, publishing, press and printing. The concept of freedom of speech is often covered by the same laws as freedom of the press thereby giving equal treatment to both spoken and published expressions.
Undoubtedly, the impact of the press on nation building cannot be overemphasized. It is noteworthy that, the current socio-political, ethnic and religious intolerance in Nigeria can best be addressed by giving the press a free role not only in presentation of reportage but educating the entire citizenry on the need to embrace absolute tolerance irrespective of their respective affiliations.
The ongoing Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria, particularly in the North-East region of the country, coupled with the current crisis occasioned by herdsmen cannot be properly approached or tackled without involving the press. In this aspect, the press would enable the citizens and other concerned groups to know what is at stake as well as what is expected of them at any given time.
Of course, it is the press that would enable the general public to acknowledge the anticipated dimension of the said anomalies. Creating awareness and awakening the consciousness of the populace in this regard or in a situation of such cannot be compromised, and such measure cannot be achieved without the effort of the press.
Considering the recent elections in Nigeria, one will agree that the role of the press throughout the exercise was not just enormous, but unquantifiable. It was the media that enabled both the security operatives and the general public to know where and when there was any form of violence or security breach as well as the nature of the incident. Among all, the press created an avenue for transparency as long as the polls lasted which led to a credible, peaceful and successful exercise.
As regards the activities of the political office holders or public officers at large, the media has helped tremendously to fight bribery and corruption in the electoral process. It is the press that enables the people to be fully aware of the steps being taken by the government towards addressing any issue or anomaly alongside the respective efforts of each of the government functionaries. Similarly, the contribution of critics in national development or good governance through presentation of constructive criticism cannot be effective without the media which is why our constitution provides for press freedom.
Against this backdrop, the United Nations (UN) thought it wise to proclaim May 3 of every year as the World Press Freedom Day. The World Press Freedom Day was approved by the UN General Assembly in December 1993 following the recommendation of the General Assembly of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Day is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence, and among all pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
As Nigeria joins the global community to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day, there is need for all concerned to safeguard the Freedom of Information (FOI) law that is aimed at restructuring the Nigerian democratic system. On the other hand, there’s also an urgent need for the release of all the journalists and media personnel across the globe that are being detained unjustly by the police or any law enforcement agency.
More so, the governments at all levels ought to stop further arrest and intimidation of activists whom they perceive as critics of their negative political agenda. Suffice it to say the press ought to be given a thorough free role in reporting and seeking solution to issues that may threaten the peace and unity of our great country, Nigeria.
On their part, the members of the media must at all times concentrate on objective, unbiased reportage. They are expected to think beyond their individual interest in any circumstance they find themselves. In view of this, no member of the press should in any occasion or on any ground publish any news/story without embarking on thorough and adequate investigation.
Investigative reporting ought to be the watchword of every pressman. As a press personnel, you aren’t meant to publish a story based on speculations; rather, the ethics of the job mandates you to go into finding having heard or gotten a story, toward ascertaining its actual origin. The wisdom is leave out if you are not sure of your facts.
Furthermore, any practising journalist is expected to abstain from partisanship while carrying out his/her lawful obligations regardless of the pressure or circumstance. Never you publish any story with a view to pleasing any individual or corporate body. Do the needful no matter whose ox is gored.
Moreover, as much as any pressman wouldn’t tolerate any form of embarrassment either from the members of the public or anyone in a position of authority, he/she is equally expected to concentrate only on the needful at all costs as regards the ethics of the profession. Hence, this is a day for every media personnel to have a rethink towards making amends where necessary.
•Nwaozor writes from Owerri via [email protected]