Globally, May 3rd is always celebrated as World Press Freedom Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations (UN). For 2015, the theme is: “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, General Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age.” As the world celebrates the impact of Journalism in sustainable development, we cannot help but examine the recent issues surrounding our President-Elect Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) and the Chief Raymond Dokpesi owned African Independent Television (AIT).
I coined the word “Buharism” some weeks ago to refer to the type of government we hope to receive under the administration of the Nigerian President-Elect Gen. Muhamadu Buhari (rtd.) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Imagine my surprise when I saw the phrase on the Social Media, meaning it was not an original term. What a humbling experience. It only confirmed the expression that there are very few original ideas.
Journalism on the other hand has unequivocally existed from time in memorial. Wikipedia, the free online Encyclopedia states that “Journalism is gathering, processing, and dissemination of news and information related to the news to an audience. The word applies to both the method of inquiring for news and the literary style which is used to disseminate it. “
Journalism, which is the fourth realm in any democracy, has historically been in the forefront of the fight for the right of the masses. It was always a noble profession. However, today the profession has undergone some challenges. They include the influx of people who have no passion for the job and are in it for money because they cannot find any other form of livelihood. The other major problem is journalists who cannot write complete sentences and pen stories with so many grammatical and spelling errors. This could be a reflection of the Nigerian educational system, which produces graduates that cannot defend their degrees. As a lecturer and Publisher, I am amazed at the stories submitted to me.
To use the broader term “Mass Communication”, radio and TV Broadcasters are not exempted from the dearth of good journalists. Last week, I overhead a radio personality asking a caller, “Why do you like to borrow money to people?” The Broadcaster meant to talk about “lending.” Anyway, the point is that Journalists need better training.
Leaving the issue of training of Journalists, we now look at the institutional framework militating against for Press Freedom. First, the Press must avoid the regular largesse by governments in Nigeria. It is not uncommon for Governors to call Press Conferences and Press briefings, only to give out money to be shared by various chapels of the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ). This is very tempting and could create the possibility of tilting or skewing the news in favor of that government, including withholding negative information (killing or suppressing stories).
Secondly, the crisis between Gen. Buhari and AIT is a prime example that Nigerians must be more vigilant. Gen. Buhari initially banned AIT from covering his activities claiming that AIT was biased during the buildup to Presidential elections. After the ensuing public outcry, his party the All Progressives Congress (APC) retreated and stated that AIT could cover the President-Elect.
A few more days later, the President-Elect backtracked and stated that the ban was from his aides and not authorized by him. The fear on most people’s mind was that the General has returned again with his clampdown on the Media.
During his first appearance as Head of State, Buhari’s regime was known for his extensive infringement on the freedom of the Press Nigerians have not forgotten the infamous Decree 4 of 1984 which was used to clamp down on the media when he was Head of State. It is our hope that now that he is coming back as a civilian President, things will be different. In a democratic regime, any problems with the Press can be referred to The Press Council, NUJ or taken to the Courts of law for litigation. A democratically elected President is expected to be more tolerant, as shown by outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, that is the most vilified and insulted President in the history of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Constitution guarantees Press Freedom. Specifically, Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “(1) every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be Entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”
Furthermore, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has stated that “freedom of expression, independent media and universal access to knowledge will fortify our efforts to achieve lasting results for people and the planet.”
Our President-Elect Gen. Buhari should understand that he needs the Media to accomplish his main agenda of fighting corruption. Transparency will be fostered by a synergy between Buharism and Journalism. As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, let Nigeria be on the forefront of ensuring the safety and freedom of one of the noblest profession in the world.
The Press should rally behind the President-elect and hold him to his statement to the Nigerian Press Organization (NPO) in Abuja, before his electoral victory, that “the health of Nigeria’s democracy rests partly on you. Without a robust and thriving media, the masses would have no voice.”
Happy World Press Freedom Day.
Rev. Atawa, a public Affairs Analyst, writes from Asaba.