Consolidating Press Freedom

By Erubami Joshua
“Our Democracy relies on an informed citizenry. Thoughtful, fair, balanced, comprehensive reporting in print and in photos or video may be the best way to know what is going on- the way to best inform ourselves. Information is what keeps us free from tyranny”- Nancy Conway.
The indispensable role of journalism in nurturing and enhancing the growth of any democratic society has been underscored in many fora of discussions and debates. Without quality debates and constructive criticisms, the blueprint of the administration and government of any country will never intercept with its desired success neither can any republic survive without it because, a free press is a prerequisite for having a free people or nation. More so, the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of human liberty such that a popular government that is bereft of it will, inevitably, lack popular information or the means of acquiring it ,thereby, making it a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. It was therefore, not a misplacement of emphasis when the former President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his letter to Colonel Edward Carrington that; “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.
Freedom of the press, according to the Wikipaedia, is the freedom of communication and expression through vehicles including various electronic media and published materials. While such freedom mostly implies the absence of interference from an over reaching state, its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections. This means that no individual journalist or any media organization should be pre-barred or hindered from accessing and disseminating the information that can enable people to make informed and quality decisions in issues of national and international relevance.
May 3 every year has been set aside for celebration of world press freedom day all over the world since the General Assembly of the United Nations made the proclamation in December 1993 following the recommendation of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Among the avalanche of reasons that justify the celebration of this landmark anniversary, it serves as a time to appreciate the fundamental principles and current state of press freedom all over the world, a time to defend and expedite action on the independence of the media as well as the safety of media workers and that of media organisations and, more importantly, it is a time to pay tribute to the martyrs of the emancipating profession, journalism.
At a time like this, when journalists all over the world suffer persecution, harassment, intimidation and both cold and harsh conditions, it is instructional and appropriate that the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom day anniversary is “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age”. This central statement appears to be very much embracing as it attempts to tackle some of the lingering giant challenges that have stalled the practice of journalism in the past decades.
Unarguably, a thriving journalism is the one that is allowed to flourish under less severe conditions. It is the one that equips citizens with the intellectual and will power to make informed decisions, identify and counteract injustice, corruption, and the abuse of power. This also denotes that journalism should grow in an enabling environment in which journalists can carry out their duties independently, without undue interference and in conditions of safety. Without controversies, the above qualification of press freedom makes the undue jostling, muzzling and harassment of journalists in their line of duty, for any identified reason, an unacceptable and condemnable act anywhere in the world.
The challenge of ensuring an accurate and better media reportage has been at the front burner of journalism discourse since the past two decades. The capricious and ever changing nature of the media landscape as a result of the new dimensions in technological upsurges as well as the over-commercialization of media services are twin issues that must gain the attention of media stakeholders if a virile press is to be sustained. Media owners and sponsors should provide adequate funds for media organisations so that they can meet up with the demands of this supersonic age. This is even more important as the quality of any production tends to have a major bearing on the reality of issues portrayed and even the credibility of the media organization that is portraying such issues.
It is disheartening to know that some media practitioners and media organisations jettison all ethical standards mainly for pecuniary considerations. This is very much evidenced in the selective and subjective coverage and correlation of events as well as the placing of some individuals of easy-virtue in the spotlight all in a bid to give them an undeserved credit. In as much as no reason is worth the reckless abandonment of media objectivity, this act should be discouraged. As the world, all over, renew its strength and resolve towards achieving a free press, all the regulatory bodies of the media must sit tight and remain on guard to curb all unethical practices among media professionals. All hands must be deck on deck to consolidate our democracy through a virile, credible and free press.
As we reflect on the liberty of the world press, our searchlight should not be stereotyped towards enhancing the assessment and dissemination of information alone rather, we should also consider the level of participation that are allowed among the various participants and stakeholders of journalism. The United Nations once hinted that gender imbalance has continued to soar high in the media even after the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Change’ was established over 20 years ago. It is still an irony that most schools of journalism, especially in Nigeria, have more female candidates than males yet, only a handful of women journalists have climbed up the media ladder to positions of key decision-making. The monster of gender discrimination has feasted too long on the fabric of journalism with its attendant stagnation and delay in duties. Therefore, all stakeholders must rise in unison to relegate it to the trashcan of history. If journalism is to thrive and if a free press is to be sustained, then the intellectual and managerial expertise of women journalists must never be domiciled in the backroom of redundancy. Their wealth of proactive skills should be effectively and efficiently employed in handling media tasks and challenges.
No single phenomenon has encouraged media plurality and multiplicity than the advent of the internet. With its potentials, people can send whatever message they desire without any form of formal regulation and control. It is on the foundation of this development that our last reflection in this article will be on media safety in the digital age. It is without controversy that every free man has the right to lay whatever sentiment that he or she pleases to display before the public; and to forbid this right may be tantamount to undermining the freedom of the press. More so, to subject the press to the restrictive power of a licenser may mean to subject all freedom of sentiment to the prejudices of one man, and to make him the arbitrary and infallible judge of all controverted points in learning, religion and government. However, if the publication is improper, mischievous or illegal, such person must be made to bear the consequences of his or her own temerity. With this arrangement, the will of the individual is still free and unhindered but the abuse of such free will may be subjected to legal sanctions. This should not be misconstrued to mean an advocacy for the restraint of individual thought and enquiry but a measure of curbing the willful dissemination of messages that are saddled with the potentials of impinging societal growth and development.
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free simultaneously, it expects what never was and never will be. It is still very tenable that one cannot fight what one does not know about; neither can one make any appreciable progress without the knowledge of where one has been as well as ought to be. It is on the strength of this that everyone needs quality information in order to take the right steps. Sometimes, the truth is ugly, disappointing, inconvenient and difficult to say and accept: but it must be told. The freedom of the press that the society needs should be the one that there is no much freedom from it. There should be no oriental cow in the use of information: everybody should be entitled to it. Having the adequate information about ourselves and the society we live in is the bedrock of our national identity and, this can only be achieved through a well consolidated free and independent journalism. Journalists and Journalism needs the maximum support of security personnel and the cooperation of the general public. People should desist from indicting media practitioners in their line of duties because a killed journalist is a killed story since there will not be any one to tell it.