When do we embrace free press?
History shall forever be favorable to our past promising journalists who for the love of satisfying the public anxieties, encountered bunches of authority wraths ranging from intimidations, arrests, killing, tortures, and threats. People like the iconic Dele Giwa, Kenule Beeson “Ken Saro-Wiwa, among the rest. And to those that ran through this period of hostilities and yet privileged to be alive today, I hope your pen never bowed and bleed the favoritism inks of the authority? I hope the struggle of our past journalists never goes in vain? For when you cage the scope of free journalism in the name of fear or intimidation, you’re unknowingly setting your home on fire, certainly Karma shall visit you in return. As we all know, you can’t greedily eat your cake and have it.
As opined by Ralph Akinfeleye; a professor of Mass Communication at University of Lagos “ the other name for democracy is free journalism and there can’t be sustainable democracy without a free press. The government must understand this for development to occur”. With the coming of democracy, we thought our society will reflect expected realism. But unluckily, democracy seemed to be a nightmare in Nigeria.
The military era has come and gone with a vast attack on the media, journalists, vendors and other core participants. Now in this self democratic government, the way the press is being treated is even more raging than it was, during the military days. Rhetoric I never got over is “could it be that the current face of journalism practice in Nigeria is an outgrowth of the military pathways? Or the aftermath of oppressive dons’ deeds; who greedily eats alone from the big pot of the nation that is meant for all?
Press is seen as an agent that checks and report the policies of the government, relate it to the mass audience, who later react to it. However, if the press could suffer maltreatment from the authority, then who speaks for the voiceless? The ill status of press freedom has even spread to our educational terrains, where the students who wish to practice journalism right from school before getting to the competitive aspect of the profession are chastised, suspended, withdrawn and at times face threats and intimidations from concerned individuals and groups. This to some extent will hinder the real idealism of journalism, if not addressed. However, we hope our rights are vividly spelled out in the Constitutions both at the primary levels and to the possible larger paradigms.
As gathered from a reliable source, Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism ( PTCIJ)’s site “The estimated record of attacks on Nigeria press was 341 among which 188 were violent reports”. Heartbreaking was the case of Samuel Ogundipe of Premium Times who was arrested for not revealing his source, Tunde Oladepo and Bayo Ohu of prestigious Guardian who were brutally murdered, Obinna Don of Realm newspaper who was charged of breaching the Cyber Crime Act of 2015, the persistent arrests of Jones Abiri who publishes Weekly Source Newspaper, and the evil raid on the Daily Trust premises by Nigeria Military where the editor; Uthman Abubakar was arrested and news items containing vital information were seized. These are only a few among numbers of attacks on the press.
Breach of privacies has been the major allegations charged against the press. But, it’s a big slap on the faces of our worthless leaders not to note that “privacy as stressed in the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended and the inevitable part of the journalistic codes, supports the respect of a people’s personal and private life. It can only dwell into or checked on when it concerns the public interest”. In a case where you loot the nation’s treasury, breach persons’ rights, and manipulate our democratic process, don’t forget that it won’t escape the interest of the marginalized ones. If you don’t want to occupy the space of newspapers’ headlines or be the hot topic of discussion on the air, you should maintain self-respect and altruism to the people who put their trust in you.
Nevertheless, the government should respect the press, see it as an integral part of themselves and take into considerations major issues such as strengthening the reality of Freedom of Information Act. Until this is able to achieve, we may claim how independent we are as a nation.
In the same vein, I urged meaningful individuals and organizations, particularly the media to go round our various institutions with the zeal of sensitizing the major stakeholders to respect and allow for peaceful practice of journalism by interested Nigerian students, as this will encourage them and prepare them for future challenges in the field. Also, more campaigns like “ Support Free Journalism” by Premium Times, should be powered by reasonable participants in the information sector through agencies like NBC, NUJ and the likes.
I also urge the media to consider and publish the contents issued by any Nigerian student who tries to unravel the hidden facts on their various campuses. Following that, they should try to intervene and speak for us through reachable channels whenever the need arises.
•Yakubu, is a student of Mass Communication Department, IBB University, Lapai, Niger State.