Although May 3rd has been declared by the United Nations General Assembly as the World Press Freedom Day, there are different ways in which the media is inhibited from being free. A day before the 2018 edition, one of the aides of Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Nigeria threatened the reporter of The Nation newspaper. While on the D-day, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture urged the media to be fair. With this two instances happening in quick succession, there was a need to really ascertain how fair the media in Nigeria is faring.
The Nigerian media which has evolved over the years has brought fame to some people, incarceration during the military junta and some have even lost their lives in the course of discharging their lawful duty within the fourth estate of the realm. Also, many media houses have been ostracized for speaking against a government, shut down, while licenses have been withdrew among other issues that has hindered the freedom of the press. Unfortunately, there is not insurance scheme to take care of the families of brave media persons and strong media outfits have been ruined respectively.
While probing if the media in Nigeria really free; there were contrasting views. One of the respondents noted that the media has inherent challenges ranging from not having proper access to information when writing stories, unnecessary withhold of information from the media, clash with the political powers and many more. In the view of another respondent, Bola Olalere, Managing Editor of Delight Communication, Publisher of Lekki Express, Oyo Herald and Okeho News, the press in Nigeria is free and potent, this helped the All Progressive Congress to record tremendous success in the last general elections. Another media practitioner, Kayode Awojobi noted that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is not yet effective and this has hindered the press from being free.
After identifying the hampered freedom of the press, there was the need to identify ways in which the press can become free. The first identified way, by John Salau, was the need for pressmen to be professional in how they source for news and be objective in their reportage. Another respondent, Wale Rayners, Publisher of Security Monitors, noted that the prompt payment of salaries of pressmen would be helpful in making the media free. In the recent past, many media owners have turned the identity cards of their staff to a meal ticket which guarantee their earnings on a daily basis as they cover various news events. Asides this, media professionals also need to use the FOI Act to achieve their desired freedom to access information.
In their reaction to the recurring face-off between political office holders and the press, there were calls that political office holders should continually be reminded that the press were part of their success before they came into office and the press ethically has the right to report their activities. There are calls that the Federal Government need to enact laws that would empower pressmen to investigate issues within the ambits of the law with sufficient protection. As seen at various times, state apparatus are used against the press and the actions of the political office holders is inconsequential. Howbeit, the press were urged to also reduce sensational headlines as often leads to issues with political office holders.
While discussing the fairness of the media, the question of ownership comes to the fore. The various forms of ownership that we have in Nigeria include- The Federal Government, State Government and privately owned media outfits with major stakes belonging to some political juggernauts. How fair would the press be when there are various interests at stake? The ownership of the press and their interest affects press freedom and independence. Pressmen, in all the aforementioned outfits, should subtly embed facts and be objective in their reportage without compromising the tents of journalism while writing.
In another view, the advent of the new media has put the press on its toes, if pressmen are quivering, citizen journalists are putting it right from their little space and this goes viral which might be contrary to the expectation of the media owners and the government. As such, pressmen needs to remain resolute in discharging their duties by digging deep for stories- investigative reportage- which will earn them a lot of respect from the world at large. All pressmen that operates without fear or favour will contribute to the global call for a stronger and professional press.
In your own assessment how is the media in Nigeria faring, where do you pitch your tent, there are news sites that specializes in breaking fake news while there are traditional press that have built their reputation over decades who have also embraced new media. Who can we trust with news? Who will guarantee the safety of the pressmen? Which media can we totally depend on regardless of the ownership? When these questions have the right answers, then we will be heading towards the desired Press Freedom and Fairness.