One of the enduring tenets of democracy is freedom of expression as rooted in a responsible and vibrant press. A responsible media must as a duty hold government and the entire society accountable for their actions. Liu Xiaobo held that, “free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth.” The mass media is an important organ saddled with the fundamental roles of informing, educating, and entertaining the society on the programmes, actions of governments at all levels and in any other human endeavours. Apart from these traditional functions, it brings to the door steps of public news, analysis and the level of developmental strides such as employment opportunities, road construction, building of hospitals, provision of pipe borne water, constructions of schools and renovation/innovations embarked upon by the government for the good of the people.
The media is a common carrier of ideas, ideals and truly mirrors daily events in/of the society. It goes a long way to giving truth and meaning of the news while ensuring full access to developmental information. The media clarifies the actions and goals of government and the effects on the society. The impact of these basic roles on the life of the society cannot be over emphasised. Without the media lending its voice to contemporary issues in businesses, human endeavours and programmes of government, the impact of these on the society cannot be adequately felt or fully appreciated.
It is expected that the media should be able to speak the truth at all times and send meaningful information and clarification on programmes of government as they affect the society. They are channels for interaction, communication, for dialogue and debate on the major issue of rural and urban development; presenting realistic reportage of events and forces working for and against societal goals for the betterment of the society at large is the goal of the media.
To a large extent the media sets the agenda and shapes the opinion of the society on numerous issues and events on local, states and national levels. That was why Jesse Scott declared that; “People are sheep. TV is the shepherd.” Nigeria got her independence without firing a shot largely due to an intrepid, vibrant, dogged and conscientious media. Since then, the Nigerian media has carved a niche for itself in carrying out its noble professional roles for the betterment of the society. The success story recorded in the just concluded 2015 general elections cannot be complete without mentioning the vital role of the media in setting the agenda for decisions and choice of candidates through various programmes and programmings.
The beauty of democracy is fully appreciated on account of the objectivity and vibrancy of responsible media coverage and reportage of the political processes. Conversely, the worth of democracy could be jeopadised by media propaganda against a government, an individual or group and the conscious negative reportage of activities of these. Bad journalism according to an observer “is a consequence of an unregulated market in which, would be monopolists are free to treat the channels of democratic debate as their private property.” The ethics and standard of the profession must be strictly upheld and most importantly adhered to in the conduct of media businesses for democracy to thrive and be better appreciated. The issues of ethics and standards arising from the practice of journalism should be taken seriously by supervisors of the media. This was because in the words of Robert McChesney, “if we are serious about democracy, we will need to reform the media system structurally… this reform will have to be part of a broader movement to democratise all the core institutions of society.” The Nigerian Press Council and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission should spearhead this reform in line with international media best practices. Both organs must be seen to continuously educate, remind and make known the guiding principle and laws of media operations to the practitioners and regularly enforce compliance by wielding the big stick in form of reprimands and sanctions against erring outfits.
However, it is revealing according to Robert McChesney also that, “the media system exists as it does because powerful interests have constructed it so that citizens will not be involved in the key policy decisions that have shaped it.” To this effect, it is a well-known fact that formation of modern media organisations comes with accentuating purposes of the elitist owners. Well defined and diligent applications of these purposes to the benefit of the owners and for the services of the good of the people are at cross-purposes. More often than not, the purposes benefit more of the elitist political and economic mindset of the owners of the press than the public it was purportedly set up to serve.
This brings us to the hoopla raised by barring the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering the president-elect until “issues of ethics and standards are sorted out.” Although the gaffe has calmed down, W.H Auden captured the mood of the media in all situations even in a democracy as he asserts that; “what the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” Nigerians should equally be aware that the media is a popular and unpopular-portent interest driven-tool to fighting the “cause of the oppressed” and equally a “solid instrument to oppress as well.” It is likened to a two edged sword which can make or mar the society. Therefore it should be carefully handled.
As a matter of fact, the second coming of new and democratic Muhammadu Buhari should deeply take into account the imperative and exigency of good media relationship and camaraderie in the success of any government especially in a democracy. His present disposition to the media both in action and in words will erode the judgment of some Nigerians who still see him as the same tough and unchangeable 1985 military administrator who was visibly antagonistic to the press and has entrenched disdain for the purposes and the society which it serves.
The beauty of democracy once again is fully appreciated on account of a responsible press, objectivity and vibrancy of media reportage of the processes. As May, 29 inches closer, the in-coming government should bear in mind that government do not only succeed by having good intentions or well thought out people-oriented policies and programmes but by the eyes and medium through which citizens, appraise those intentions, programmes and policies.
Eze writes from Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, Kaduna