1.1 Background of the Study
This study examines the effect of media laws on Nigerian print media, a study of Tide, Niger Delta Standard, and Independent Monitor Newspapers in Port Harcourt. Reporters have been facing a lot of constraints in carrying out their duties, thereby impacting negatively on the media in Nigeria, because of Nigerian laws that do not give them free hands of executing their functions. Naturally, the concept of law raises the question: what is law? According to Redmond as cited by Okoro and Okolie (2004:1) Law is defined as “a rule to which actions conforms or should conform”. Greenwood and Welsh (1985:3) also defined law as “the set of rules by which the citizens of a country regulate their conduct in relation to their fellow citizens and to the state. Ekwelukwa (2004:40) opines that: Press law is the law of ethics of communication. It is the law affecting practice of journalism. It deals with publications issuing from the press and affects the press and indeed the journalists in particular. It is the law that deals with law censorship. Freedom of the press as it relates to defamation, that is to say: libel and slander, copyrights, national security, sedition, parliamentary and judicial precedents, obscenity civil suits etc. Furthermore he stresses that “the press can be defined as an establishment for printing and publishing of books, magazine, Newspapers”, etc. It can also be defined as the personnel of an establishment for printing of books newspapers, periodicals” etc. and that press law is a set of rules that exist in human society for regulating the conduct of press men, resolving conflicts and avoiding confrontations. These include
1 Publication of offensive materials and the law.
2 Rule of prior restraint
3 The right to speak
4 Freedom of speech and the press
5 Press freedom of criticism
6 The judiciary and the press
7 Detention of persons
8 The 1962 Act
11 The press council decree disputed section
12 Media ownership
13 Code of conduct, malicious falsehood, contempt of court, obscenity, adversity law, libel, slander, and copyright publications etc.
The summary of these laws lies in the fact that they affect the practice of journalism in Nigeria. According to Mahatama Ghandi as quoted in Yalaju (2001: 185) that the sole aim of the press is service. The media functions include: national integration, cultural promotion, surveillance, economic enhancement, education, act as the peoples parliament information dissemination, agenda setting and installation and sustenance of democracy. It is at the process of carrying out these functions that they are faced with so many pathetic situations like:
a. Killing of journalists
b. Seizure of press equipment
c. Closure of media houses
d. Arrest and detention of journalists
e. Imprisonment of journalists etc.
The Nigerian print media are faced with constitutional and political constraints which therefore are negatively affecting the performance of the mass media, in Nigeria they make obnoxious laws and manipulate them to achieve their selfish ends. The professional rule cannot be elevated into a legal rule e.g. in the case of AG vs. Mucheland and Foster the journalist were imprisoned for refusing to identify their sources before the tribunal of inquiry into the vessels spy affair. So there was no way they could identify the sources because of the ethics of the profession. Therefore the provisions of the right to freedom of the press is curtailed by the contents of section 39(3) which states that “nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justified in a democratic society for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, so the press has no absolute right to confidentiality of the source of information.
In 1993 presidential election the press became the major victim of the administration.
The Nigerian press had to go underground and practiced what is known as “guerrilla journalism”. Magazine such as Tell, The News and The Tempo had a rough time with Abacha security agents. Many pressmen were arrested, detained, jailed, even killed, more importantly disturbing and frightening was the framed-up coup series in which journalist were implicated, pressmen suffered various degree of persecution. Section 39 subsection (ii) which states in part that “provided that no person, other than the government of the federation or a state or any other person or body authorized by the president to fulfillment of conditions laid down by an act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever” should be amended to reflect the current trends of privatization instead of retaining a bogus provision which government for political reasons may use to deny individuals, groups, states the legal right to own a broadcast or wireless station. Journalist had always been taken to court for defamation, either by libel or slander in the process of carrying out its official function. Nigeria is not practicing a full democracy because a journalist who reports an issue against the government; stands the risk of been arrested and charged to court for official secret act. The awesome aspect of Decree No. 1984 was use in suppressing the press through unlawful arrest, search, indefinite detention of journalist, closure of media houses and the ouster of courts jurisdiction. Official Secrets Act 1962 provides that to transmit any classified matter to a person whom he is not authorized on behalf of government to transmit it shall be guilty of an offence. So, in sensitizing what they publish, they serve themselves the risk of being used, and once a published material is challenged, the process of litigation is set for motion. The government should realize that,the media are partners towards nation building and development. For the media to contribute their quota, they need better working relations, which can only be guaranteed by the constitution, through a free press.
The media is one of the essential machineries for upholding the rule of law in Nigeria. truth is needed at all times and in every society. It is the truth that leads to real progress as noted by Ewelukwa (2004: 85). That, at the course of pursuing the truth, they are been harassed, intimidated and imprisoned for either defamation or any other allegation, thereby creating unfavourable situation for the press”. It is on these note that Yalaju (2001: 185) states that: The newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitation, but also a collective organizer. In the respect, it can be compared with scaffolding put around a building under construction, it indicated the shape the building will have, makes communication between the various building works easier, helps the workers to distribute the work and to be aware of the general results jointly achieved by the organized works. The crusade for freedom of expression and the press is as old as government itself. The press has been described as the fourth Estate of the Realm, meaning that the press ought to be on equal pedestal with the other estate the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. According to Yakubu (2003:11) he buttress that “the extent to which the press of a nation can go in achieving its noble objectives depends on each society. So fundamental is the role of the press that a place have been found for it in the Nigerian Constitution. Section 39 of the 1999 constitution tagged |Right to freedom of expression and the press” provides: (i) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, inclusively freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference. Furthermore section 22 of the 1999 constitution also provides that “the press, radio television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and up hold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.
So, freedom of speech means no more than speech from which illegal utterances are subtracted from press freedom or liberty of the press in absence of political censorship in the press or other media. It would be seen that government is afraid of criticism hence the restriction on press freedom. Based on this premises we can rightly observe that, press criticism is what government fears. For the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information received, there are some laws that are contradicting to the freedom of the press. section 4(1) of the 1999 constitution provides that “any person who whether for gain or not distributes or progress any article to be obscene for the purpose of the Act Commits an offence punishable on conviction by the fine of not exceeding N200 or by imprisonment for a term of not exceeding three years or by both”. Therefore constitutional provisions of Nigeria are not enough to protect the press and to guarantee effective press freedom, and there is no point having freedom of the press if you don‟t use it.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Media laws have been the greatest albatross to journalistic practice in Nigeria. From the colonial times to the modern journalistic era, the laws have often act as restriction on the much avowed talk about press freedom. Thus, some of the laws restrict the journalist right to secure information that may be of public interest. Even when the journalist goes the extra-mile to seek vital information about government activities which are tagged official secrets but against the interest of the state, he could be guilty of treason. Similarly, a fair criticism of the government policies and programmes could be calculated to be seditions, depending on the nature of the man in the saddle of leadership.
In recent times, comment made about the president faring health has brought a defamation litigation against the management of the leadership newspaper. In the last democratic dispensation, comment made by Gbenga Aruleba, presenter of „FOCOS Nigeria‟ on AIT about the acclaimed new presidential jet which according to him did not appear new due to seditions charges against him, infact the journalist is daily constrained, living him with little freedom to really carryout his constitutional obligation to the state. The laws have denied and deprive the press of the capacity to carry out its true mandate. The problems therefore necessitate this study, the effect of media laws on Nigerian print media. In other words, what are the effect of media laws on Nigeria print media with particular reference to the newspapers under study.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
Objectives of the study are particularly to examine the effect of media laws on Nigerian print media. This practice is viewed from the constraints the obnoxious laws have made in the proliferation of the Nigerian print media. The study will be guided by the following objectives:
(1) To determine the effect, Nigerian laws have made on the print media that do not give room for journalists to carry out their work effectively.
(2) To determine the ways in which these laws affect journalistic practice.
(3) To determine the ways in which these media laws affect objectivity of the work of the journalist and to a large extent those in the print media.
(4) To determine what can be done to correct these obnoxious laws.
1.4 Significance of the Study
This study will contribute in the already existing literature in area of press freedom in Nigeria. It will further provide information, data that will help to review those laws that are detrimental to journalist profession. It will also create awareness on the implication of the laws that are harmful to the Nigerian mass media.
It will be useful for researchers that may wish to research on press laws. The findings of the study will highlight to Nigerian‟s the effect and causes of media laws in Nigeria and how it affect performance of the media in Nigeria.
1.5 Research Questions
The following research questions were formulated to guide the study.
1. What effect have Nigerian laws made on the print media that do not give room for journalist to carry out their work effectively?
2. In which ways do these laws affect the journalistic profession and the work of the press?
3. In which ways do these laws affect the objectivity of the work of the journalist and to a large extent the print media?
4. What can be done to correct these obnoxious laws?
1.6 Theoretical Framework
This study employs two theories of the press, authoritarian theory and the social responsibility theory. The thesis of this theory according to Udeajah (2004: 22) is that, authoritarians believe that the media should do nothing that would undermine established authority or disturb public order. Instead the media should always be subordinate to established authority. He notes that the media under this system of government should avoid offence to majority or dominant moral and political values; unacceptable attacks on authority, deviation from official policy or offences against moral cases should be considered as criminal offences and that censorship can be justified especially when it is aimed at enforcing authoritarian principles. In these words, media people have no independence within their media organizations.
From Ojobor (2002:7) perspective, the media under authoritarian system of
government should submit to the authorities and the truth is that statement which supports or is beneficial to the government in power. The issue of press freedom is not tolerated under the authoritarian system; and all kinds of control of the media are considered necessary for the power holders to ensure the welfare of the state. The theory holds that the instrument of control of the press, manifest in legislation, taxations, and economic sanctions, enforceable cases of practice and direct appointment of media personnel. The implication of the theory in the light of the study lies in the following assumptions:-
(1) Laws that restrict the rights of the press to gather and disseminate information are instrument of state control of the press.
(2) The fear of been harassed, tortured and imprisoned can prevent media workers from reporting stories that may lead to such, this study employs two theories of the press.
Social responsibility theory of the press, according to Ojobor in Okunna (2002:11) stresses that “the theory believes that freedom carries concomitant obligation in it, press is to be responsible to society by carrying out certain essential functions of mass communication Siebert et al as cited by Ojobor in Okunna (2002:11) supported this assertion by saying that “the theory tries to reconcile their somewhat divergent principles: individual freedom, and choice, media freedom, and media obligation to society. Two main ways has been generally adduced as solutions for achieving freedom and responsibility of the press. First, developing independent public institutions for media management. Secondly, further development of professionalism as a means of achieving higher standard of performance while maintaining self-regulation by the media themselves. Baran (2007:473) added that media must remain free of government control, but in exchange the media must serve the public.
1.7 Limitations of the Study
Survey research has been rated as a very reliable method of generating relevant data needed for study, in a natural setting. Though it has been criticized by the words of Okoro (2001:39) that opinions of respondents are subject to change from time to time; subject to sampling error, and subject to biased and subjective information. Beside, the researcher found out that print media practitioners are not easily accessible, because of the nature of their job. They are always on the more in pursuit of news, facts or events. So, getting them to sit down and fill the copies of the questionnaires may not be an easy task. This may hinder the research work. Furthermore, the researcher may be constraints by finance and time which may not allow a thorough and in-depth research work.
1.8 Definition of Terms
1 Ethics: The lay down principles of the journalist profession. The rules that guide the work of the journalist.
2 Information: is the dissemination of news so that people can be acquainted with the day to day happening.
3 Laws: as used in this paper are the rules or the inhibitions that prevent free access to, and publication of information. That is, all legal restraint to gathering and dissemination of information.
4 Media: are the various channels through which information is dispersed to a mass audience. In this case, the print channels.
5 Obnoxious: An offensive law that is antagonistic to the work of the journalist. It has a negative impact on the journalist activities.
6 Tide: is the newspaper published by Rivers State of Nigeria.