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1.1 Background to the Study
Journalism is one social institution that requires freedom to effectively function in society. It plays a crucial role to society, serving as the watchdog of the society, and providing constant stream of information, education and socialization (Soeze, 2005).
Journalism also sets agenda, organizes public debates and discussions, and interprets issues to put them in proper perspectives to make meaning to people. Through these roles, journalism not only educate, inform and socialize; it also confers status, values and significance to issues, thereby serving as the mouth-piece and defender of the voiceless and the oppressed in society (Sambe, 2008).
Since the emergence of modern journalism in Nigeria in 1859 (Aliede, 2003), it has been struggling to achieve the needed freedom that would enable it discharge its social responsibilities creditably. The journalistic task of gathering and disseminating news has not been an easy one largely due to limited freedom occasioned largely by government firm grip and control of the mass media. Thus, Uche (1989) notes that relationship between the mass media and the government in Nigeria has been a cat and mouse affair. The free flow of information has been tampered with. Journalists have had no access to vital information let alone the masses. In struggling to get detailed, factual and balanced reportage, journalists have had to continue to nose around for information, exposing themselves to high levels of risk that got them victimized, jailed, tortured and sometimes killed (Ezeah, 2004).
Obnoxious laws and decrees have been promulgated by various governments directly or indirectly aimed at limiting the freedom of the press and oppressing of journalists. Ezeah (2004), stresses that;
Many journalists have suffered undue hardships in relation to these laws and also in the hands of over-zealous government officials and security operatives. They were challenged with all sorts of deprivations and depredations.
For instance, during the military government of General Muhammadu Buhari, two journalists with the Guardian newspaper, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were in 1984 jailed for a story they wrote on diplomatic postings which the government considered offensive and promptly promulgated Decree No. 4 (Accusation Against Public Officers), under which the journalists were tried and sentenced to one year jail term (Eme, 2008). During General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government the founding Editor-in-Chief of News watch magazine, Dele Giwa, was assassinated on 19th October, 1986 through a parcel bomb. Soon after the assassination, the government proscribed Newswatch in 1987 and followed with sundry arrests, intimidations, harassments and detention of journalists while the proscription of media houses became the order of the day (Anim, 1989).
Journalism also had it tough during the General Sani Abacha’s military government. During this government, the degree of abuses against journalists escalated. Criminal allegations of treason were levelled against journalists including Kunle Ajibade of The News magazine, George Mbah of Tell magazine, and Chris Anyanwu, publisher of the defunct Sunday magazine, Weekend Classique. These journalists were unfairly tried and sentenced to various prison terms (Ogbondah, 2005). Other forms of anti-journalism activities under Abacha’s government included confiscation of newspapers and magazines, disruption of printing and distribution, publication of false editions of some magazines, withholding of official advertisements and promulgation of anti-press decrees (Ezeah, 2004).
When the military handed over power to a civilian government on May 29, 1999, there was high expectation that journalists were going to enjoy relative freedom to enable them effectively discharge their duties. However, this was not to be the case. Cases of assault on journalists were witnessed during the civilian democratic government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
The cases include the brutalization of Akintunde Akinleye, a photo- journalist with Daily Independent, the detention of three editors of the Insider magazine in 2003, the experiences of Isioma Daniel, the reporter with This Day newspaper and Cyril Mba of the Monitor newspaper among others. Similarly, two Nigerian journalists, Rotimi Durojaiye of Independent newspaper and Gbenga Aruleba of African Independent Television (AIT) were arrested and detained, following their coverage of the controversial air disaster involving Boeing 737 in 2006. The journalists, as noted by Eme (2008), were charged for sedition in connection with the materials they published on the cost and age of the controversial presidential jet purchased by the President Obansanjo’s administration. The journalists reported that the Boeing air bus was purchased at the cost of 72 million US dollars, about 9.3 billion naira.
As a result of the foregoing predicament prevailing against the practice of journalism, journalists, civil societies and coalition groups in Nigeria worked assiduously to achieve press freedom. This freedom, according to Uche (1989) was going to encourage journalism practice in diverse ways including: providing press liberty to communicate ideas, opinions, information; the right to criticize the political, economic and social institutions of the country; the right to help enlighten every Nigerian by providing him/her with the day’s intelligence in an open market place of ideas without any overt or covert systematic means of applying censorship, pressure or any form of inhibition on the part of the federal and state government institutions within the country, within the law of sedition, libel, slander and defamation. These efforts materialized with the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) in 2011.
Even before the passage and subsequent signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law, there were strong views that the Act was going to facilitate journalism practice in Nigeria.
Even though the Act is not a journalism law, journalists were at the fore-front in agitation for its passage; Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) were among the three civil society organizations that began the campaign of a law of this nature (FOI Coalition, 2003). The bill was presented to the National Assembly two times by journalists: Tony Anyanwu and Nduka Irabor for the first time and Abike Dabiri for the second time (Ojebode, 2011).
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
According to Egbon (2006), journalism is often criticized and hardly enjoys public confidence as a result of what journalists do or fail to do. Every profession is usually guarded and guided by certain laws, rules and regulations - whether formally coded or only recognized as conventions which specifies their duties, jurisdiction and limits of freedom.
The varying roles of press in the agitation for the enactment of the media laws that provides freedom for operation show that there is urgent need of backing laws to provide some level of freedom in carrying out their task. On the other hand, there may be constraints with some of the media laws that may stand in the way of effective journalism practice as well as their freedom of operation. The problem this research study seeks to address is; the level of freedom available to press to enable them carry out their tasks of information seeking and dissemination effectively.
As well as in Nigeria, people are made to believe that there is press freedom bu in reality there is not because of the too many laws constraining the media practice.
Other factors constraining the media practice includes political bias, intimidations towards journalists and media outlets by insurgents.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The main objective of this study is to examine press freedom in Nigeria (A case of Goodluck Jonathan’s regime). The specific objectives were to:
1. Determine the perception of journalists to Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011.
3. Identify how the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 extend legal protections for journalists in Nigeria.
4. Suggesting how the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 can be better utilized in enhancing journalism in Nigeria.
1.4 Research Questions
The following are the research questions of the study:
1. What is the perception of journalists to Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011?
2. How does the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 extend legal protections for journalists in Nigeria?
3. How can the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2011 be better utilized in enhancing journalism in Nigeria?
1.5 Significance of the Study
Although previous studies had been carried out by various authors on press freedom, very few of these studies focused on the Goodluck Jonathan’s regime and especially on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act enacted in 2011. Hence this research study will provide credible information on the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and examine the impact on press freedom.
Communication researchers have attested to the fact that press can play constructive roles in peace building and nation’s development. For instance, Thompson (2008) says that the press can engage in peace, accountability and anti-corruption campaign journalism, based on comprehensive and accurate conflict analysis of the situation. This could be done by engaging in reliable reporting, presenting reliable, diverse and independent opinions and editorials, establishing communication channels among disputant parties, identifying and articulating without prejudice the underlying interests, and offering solutions and building confidence among warring parties.
Apart from playing the role of umpire between political parties embroiled in conflict of interest, press play a critical role evaluating and curtailing the progress and excess of politicians respectively. It also serves as a “voice” for the “voiceless”. The mass media function as rallying points for the people. They help in creating a sense of community, a sense of espirit-de-corps, a sense of shared identity (especially in suffering), a sense of shared purpose and shared destiny. Hence this study is a very significant study that would benefits generally the members of the society at large, by providing freedom of source of information.
This study will help examine the strengths and weaknesses of the media laws as related to journalism, hence, will be very useful information to both existing and prospecting journalists.
1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study
The scope of this study is to examine the press freedom in the Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. Hence this study will cover a period between 2011 to 2014.The major limitation of this study is external validity, or the generalizability of the study. This limitation is due to constraint in data collection procedure as a result of inadequate suitable respondents, reoccurring error of questionnaire answering and time constraint.
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