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Illusion and Reality of Press Freedom in Attaining a True Democratic System of Government in Nigeria

Illusion and Reality of Press Freedom in Attaining a True Democratic System of Government in Nigeria: A Study Of Anambra North.

Review of Related Literature

Mass media of communication being a segment of the society and the most vocal are often put under some pressures by the authority, thus making it difficult for them to discharge their traditional role of reporting, the role that has made the public regard them as the watchdog of the masses or society.

This work has but one theme running through it, “freedom of the media and freedom for the media”. The media must be free from inhibiting external control in order to protect and correct society”.

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According to Ogunsiyi, “Government control news media in developing countries. The consequences of this is that government dictate what should be published or broadcasted, leaving the individuals of the society whether to accept such or let such broadcasted messages varnish. Journalists have little or no access to government information. Foreign journalists are sometimes even banned from operating in some developing countries. The most disappointing thing is that National agencies are also under the control of the state. The press law adopted in Nigeria and Tanzania some years ago gave their national news agencies the exclusive right to gather and disseminate news within their territories for either domestic or international uses, since there is some form of government control of almost every national news agency in developing countries, it would be very balanced stories as they would have love to do. Dennis McQuail Posed some questions that does a community, a society, have the right or responsibility to police media materials? To say yes is some cases “dealing with children” and on the other cases “dealing with adults” may be closed to the facts of life in the society.

Broadcasting on the other hand is regulated by the federal government to the point of broadcasters being required to hold a license in order to communicate on radio or television. The basic licensing structure of variety of other controls and television. These controls reviewed their stronger court endorsement in the Red Lion decision of 1969 in which the supreme court ruled that the standard of fairness doctrine which requires broadcasters, to balance their public affairs pro-programming and to provide air time or point of views that the broadcasters might otherwise ignore, was constitutional.

According to Daily Champion Newspaper, November 2, 2001 (P:11) “the journalist working in government media are victims to collective amnesia. In an effort to sale their jobs they are made to compromise their professional principles as most of them become instruments of praise singing by describing the performance and non-performances of their chief executives in superlative terms, as congratulatory messages, not paid are aired on his Excellency’s birthdays and their oversets tours which have yield nothing except to be remembered as relics of Jamborees.

Yet, professional integrity still requires journalists to be on the side of the society to warn and growl rather than give up in spineless surrender to the threat and danger of personal inconvenience.

2.2.1 Concept of Press Freedom

Journalism is a high calling. The first amendment to the constitution makes the News media free to serve democracy, inform the public’s, promote debates, scrutinize and utilize the conduct of public officials.

The News media have a social responsibility to ensure that those report and edit the news; never use their power for personal gain for themselves and their friends that is why every news gathering organisation must enforce its own rule to protect its credibility.

According to Eldon et al (1985), freedom is a condition rather than a criterion of performance and does not readily lend itself to either prescriptive or prescriptive statement.

Freedom of communication has a dual respect: offering a wide range of voices and responding to a wide – ranging demands or need. Similar remarks apply to cultural provision of media, where independence will be associated, and other things being equal, with creativity, originality and diversity.

Critical stance





Diversity of supply

Access to channel

Independent Status


(SOURCE: Ogunsiyi, 1989)

2.2.2 History of the Press in Nigeria

The history of the Nigeria press is broadly divided into four (4) segments. These are the era of missionary journalism, the era of alien dominated press, the emergence of the indigenous press and the dawn of modern Nigeria newspaper.

Before delving into the historical acts that have helped immensely to shape each era, it is essential to point out that the birth and growth of the Nigeria press is a historical press in which many individuals participated without foreseeing what the ultimate product of their labour was to be.

2.2.3 The Era of Missionary Journalism

The print journalism started in Nigeria in 1846 with the installation of a printing press of Calabar by the Presbyterian missionary. The primary purpose of installing the printing press was to increase the level of literacy among local people so that they would be able to acquire more knowledge via the reading of short stories and essays on various subjects particularly religious matters. The Calabar experiment did not last for long, thereafter, Iwe Irohin Fun AwonEgbe Yoruba was established by Henry Townsend in 1954 and the newspaper was published in Yoruba fortnight but later became bilingual in 1860 when an English language edition was added. The Iwe Irohin thieved well and was forced to be reckoned with by the time it folded in 1867 as a result of cultural and political crisis between the European settlers and the indigenous of England. The crisis led to the expulsion of all European settlers in England including the missionaries. The expulsion put an end to the mission printing press in Abeokuta.

Although the missionary Newspaper did not achieve much in terms of being in business for a long period of time, securing a large circulation and exhibiting professional journalist’s expertise helped them immensely to increase the level of education and the social awareness of the generality of the people they were serving.

As succinctly put by Dr. Fred Omu, author of Press and politics in Nigeria 1880 – 1937, the missionary Newspaper may not have exerted a very wide influence on West African Society halt, there can be no doubt that they introduced the first generation of educated Africans to what has become an intrinsic part of enlightened society in Europe and other lands. Their example gave inspiration and came to employ it as the chief weapon by which they were. To exercise their power of participation in the government of their land.

2.2.4 The Era of the Alien Dominated Press

The alien dominated press simply refers to the Newspaper founded by non-Nigerians which helped in forging ahead press freedom in Nigerians. One of such newspaper was the Anglo-African founded by Robert Campbell and ceased publication on December 30, 1865. In spite of the failure of the paper, more aliens were still willing to establish newspaper. Another paper founded by an alien was the Lagos Times and Gold cost colony Advertiser established by Richard Beale Blaize on 10th November, (1880). The paper was inaugurated in (1880) the name Serving as reflection of the Joint administration of Nigeria (Lagos) and Ghanaian proprietors. The ideology was reflected on the Newspaper name as well as on its editorial policy. The paper ceased publication in November 1883. The papers early death was not expected because of its militancy, it did not enjoy government patronage by way of advertisement in the paper. With few or no advertisement, the paper could not remain in existence. Even in airtime, no newspaper could survive without advertisement.

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Despite the newspaper stand on profit maximization, the mission statement, which was the right of the publication in 1883 because it took a bull of the fight for the right of the public by the horns at every available opportunity? The issue at the front colony advertisers was the decolonization of the colonies. On the papers stand on such issues that has to do with the right of the people, an analyst S. J. Coleman was being voted in Ukonu.

“There can be little doubt that Nationalist Newspaper and pamphlets have been among the main influence in the wakening of racial and political consciousness”.

Furthermore, on its stand on the decolonization struggle for Nigeria, as the British colonial government began viewing it with the eye of an anti-government paper, in the editor, Andres Thomas in his editorials of March 1881 was quoted in Barton (1997: P20) states.

We are not clamouring for immediate independence, but it should always be in mind that the present order of things will not last forever. A time will come when the colonies on the west coast will be left to regulate their own internal and external affairs.

Other alien dominated press includes the Lagos observer by John Payne Jackson 1891 to 1930, the Lagos observer1882 – 1890, the eagle and Lagos critics on 1883 by owner Emerick Macaulay and ceased publication on 31st of October 1888, Iwe Irohin by Andrew Thomas 1888, Lagos weekly times by John Payne Jackson 1890, Lagos standard by George Alfred Williams 1908, Nigeria chronic by Christopher Josephs Johnson and Emmanuel I. Johnson 1908 and the Nigerian times by James Bright Davies 1910.

On the impact of early press historian writes; total of 51 newspapers were established between 1880 and 1937. These consisted of II dailies, 33 weeklies, 3 fortnightlies and 4 monthlies. Excepting 15praincial weeklies, all these newspapers were conducted on raps which have remained the centre of the most developed newspaper industry in Africa. (Omu 1978, P. 26).

2.2.5 The Indigenous Press

One of the early newspapers founded by a religion was the Nigerian pioneer which was established by Kitayi Ajasa in Lagos in 1914. The paper was pro-government and many people hated it for that. The paper however survived until 1986, it ceases to exist.

On March 10, 1921, Ernest Okoli established the African Messenger. According to Omu, his entry into Nigerian journalism was significant in the sense that he was the first Newspaper editor produced by a Nigerian educational institution as well as being the first man outside Yoruba land “to emerge prominence in Lagos society and politics”. It lasted for five years and collapse because of financial problems. It was taken over by the Nigerian printing and publishing company in 1926 as a product of an agreement between Adeyemo Alakija and Richard Barrow.

Other newspapers established between 1900 and before the emergence of the West African pilot in (1913) were Lagos Daily News by Herbert Macaulay in collaboration with Dr. J. Akilade Caulcrick in 1927. The Nigerian Daily telegraph by Akin Fagbero Beyioku in November 12, 1927: Akede Eko by 1. B. Thomas on June 1, 1927, the religion daily mail by  Ernest Okoli in 1930, the comet by Duse Mohammed Ali in 1933, the Daily service which came into existence in 1933 as a weekly newspaper and was later converted into a daily newspaper four years after its establishment. In the early 1950, the paper merged with the Nigerian Tribune based in Ibadan and came under control of the Amalgamated Press in Nigeria Limited. Many Nigerians believed Dr. Azikiwe newspaper, the West African pilot was the popular nationalist newspaper of all times, Dr. Azikiwe edited the paper himself and he used it effectively to challenge.

2.2.6 Modern Nigerian Press

The Nigerian press had a dramatic change and orientation when after independence; government in the country entered the newspaper industry. The period between 1960 and 1966 saw many government newspaper springing up, among them was the Morning post established in 1961 by Tafawa Balewa Government for the paper ceased to be published shortly after Balewa’s Government for the purpose of providing adequate publicity of its activities. The paper ceased to be published shortly after Balewa’s Government was topped in a military coup in 1966.  By 1974, almost all the thirty six states in the country have newspaper of their own, some jointly owned. Prominent among the state owned newspaper were the sketch jointly owned by Ogun, Oyo and Ondo states. Observer owned by Bendel states, the Daily star established by Anambra state Government, Herald owned by Kwara state and Triumph owned by Kano state government. The performance of press in the post-independence era lacks much to be desired. On one hand, there were many instances of antagonism from the government. On the other hand, there were many instances of abundant evidence to prove that some journalist did throw the ethics of their profession to the wind and became ardent sycophant for the political musters, publisher, particularly during Shagari regime.

The government seem to concentrate on the developmental values and gains attached to the absolute free press – a situation where the press is allowed to say and publish whatever it deems fit. The government also seem to understand the potency of power of the press than the wielders, the stark continued as a threat to government in every part of the world such that the concept of an absolute free press has continued to exist on utopia.

Several scholars have made comments on this issue of the law and press freedom. Nwogbunyama (2007: p 10) writes … no democracy including the United States of America is absolute or unlimited freedom. To allow the press absolute or unlimited freedom is to run risk of abridging the freedom of the individual and adversely affection the society as a whole but whatever freedom the press may have should be accompanied with the coronary responsibility. Okunna (1994: P. 130) also is in support of the topic nature of the free press when she posits:

…there is no free press system the whole world, which operates entirely under the principles of the press theory, not even on the advance democracies of the western world.

This is because in all societies, there are number of legal controls which govern the operation of the mass media.

2.2.7 Press: The Voice of the Voiceless

The Nigerian press has always stood firmly on the side of justice in economics, social and political relations, even though there is a “Judas in every twelve”, the Nigerian press has extensively defended the principles of  equality of all men and their rights of itself – determination in support of democracy. (Ali, 2006, P.15).

Taking a retrospective look as the Nigeria press in 1940s and 1950s, we will see that the rise and triumph of Nigeria and African nationalism have been greatly inspired by the press. It is on record that numerous articles, copious books and the electronic media such as broadcasting have all made great impact in the aspect of our history attracting in the process, wide ranging interpretation on major issue of our fame.

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Examples, there was segregation on the civil by the white it is the press that addressed these problems through constant and relentless effort of frequently condemning it, Ali (1984, P.43 – 45).

Nigeria has a peculiarly interesting press structure which has for a long time presented a different a difficult problems to our rules under the colonial regime, our national press was an organ of all out position, constantly opposing agents of colonial role. The independent modes led to the birth of nationalist and anti-imperialistic newspaper that served as vanguard of awakening of the masses.

A little difference was seen about the press under the military rule. The press played it cool and most of them in favour of the government against the masses. This is because the despotic military regimes applying any measures at all (legal, illegal, extra legal) to silence or muzzle the press where they have a deserting opinion. As time pass through, the press still stood its ground as the voice of the voiceless. For example in mid 2010, African independent television (AIT) brought to focus the situation of the victims of the 2010 Jos crisis, showing clips or charred remains of victims and the displaced citizens who could not reach the government. Immediately, the government, its agencies and other stake holders commended deliberations and subsequent actions on the matter.

2.2.8 Problems Encountered By the Press and the Press Men in Nigeria, Including Press Law / Censorship

Over the years, the Nigerian press have been faced with numerous problems in the discharge of its duties. Lack of press freedom is one of the problems. Ali, (1984: P47) Freedom of the press in Nigeria is a topic which cannot be exhaustively treated…; it is therefore a topic that is as controversial as the concept of democracy, social justice and even freedom itself. We must all agree that, to cast or disseminate information to the right to publish, print, broad cast or disseminate information in any form with responsibility, without outside interference, censorship or control.

Now, what constitutes responsible dissemination of news without interference? This is where the problem of the press starts; in its definition. It is difficult to set the standards to the application of press freedom.

Press freedom is far-fetched in Nigeria-the media houses act on the whims and cap rids of the establisher consciously or unconsciously. Press freedom begins where the personal interests of the owner of the media houses stops. This brings us to the Authoritarian theory of the press. It is developed from the absolute powers of Tudors of England and Burtons of France and the Hapsburg of Spain in the 16th and 17th century Europe. They control every part of press activity.

This theory is characterized by direct and indirect control of staffing, seizure of media materials etc. The resultant effect is that professional mediocre is left to handle Journalism. They serve as sycophantic chatter-boxes without recourse for professional ethics.

In the military era in Nigeria, dissenting Journalists where sacked, newspapers burnt, media houses closed, Journalists detained and some murdered.

In the civilian era repressive exist actions, censorship etc. are used as instruments to muzzle the press. Illiteracy is another fundamental problem in the Nigeria press. This factor contributed to the demise of most of the early Nigerian tabloids. Illiteracy on the part of journalists and audience alike. The pressmen need to be trained and retained. Funding is also a cankerworm undermining the Nigerian press. Cutting-edge or modern technologies in communication are not available to the media houses that lack funds. For examples rural newspapers, community radio stations etc.

Extralegal and legal constraints are another set of hindrance to the press men. The legal aspects are the press law which prevent the press sometimes to freely source for information. On Thursday 23rd of September 2010, some policemen were detained for allegedly giving information to the press. There are other problems like low pay, poor working conditions etc.

2.2.9 The Roles of the Press in Nation – Building.

The press is a sine qua non in all firms of Government; it could be plutocracy, kleptocracy, military dictatorship, autocracy and even in democracy. The role and latitude given to the press varies between one form of government and another as the press must align with the form of Government under which it operates for example, while the press must know the wishes of the leader of a military dictatorship and other forms of autocracy Government, in a democracy system, the press must align itself with the people since democracy has been aptly described as the Government of the people, by the people and for the people. Even in our traditional society before the advent of colonial government, our traditional leaders utilized the services of the town criers to inform and propagate their activities.

The role of the press in a democratic system of Government is that, it serves as the watchdog of the people or the public watch may be continently described as the fifth estate of the realm without the people there would be no press with its name (fourth estate of the realm). The Nigeria press is over 145 years old. Worn in 1859 in Abeokuta, it played a vital role in securing our political independence from colonial rule and forms the suffering via grip of the dictatorship.

It roles includes:

  1. The press must maintain a balanced relationship between the government and the people by showing keen and deep interest in the improvement of the economy expose the endemic, corruption and mismanagement plaguing our development process.
  2. It must assist and proffer solutions to snap the various cycle of economic decline resulting in unemployment and poverty.
  3. There must be a deliberate attempt to tackle the economy comprehensively through sensible investments, agricultural industrial reduction, provision of essential infrastructure and services. The piece meal approach to economic development cannot solve the problems in the nation.
  4. The press must continue to editorialize without hindrance on the failure and lack of infrastructure, lapses in respect of educational  development by discouraging incessant strikes by teachers and the prevalence of cultism and moral decadence in our institutions and assist to draw attention to graduates unemployment.
  5. A good press must promote accountability and transparency it must stand against all attempts to elect corrupt people into public service.
  6. The press should remain the custodian of their people tradition and their cultural values and avoid being errand boys of self – seeking politicians.
  7. The press as the mouth piece of the high and low, in its service of the common people and elite alike, must make strenuous attempts to balance equity and the profit motive.
  8. The press should show commitments to eradicating poverty because media growth and poverty remains the great denier, it denies comfort, dignity, freedom and participation. Source Barton (1979)                                        
    • Benefits of Media Freedom

Media freedom also leads to positive benefits for the everyday needs of social institution. Especially a flow of reliable information and diverse points of view. Press independence is also a precondition of the exercise of the “watchdog” role exercising public vigilance on relation to those with the most power, especially government and big business.

Free media will be prepared when necessary to offend the powerful      endless controversial views and deviate from convention and from   the common place.

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The main public benefits of the media freedom are summarised to be:                                                                              1. Systematic and independent public scrutiny of those in power and an adequate supply of reliable information about their activities (this refers to the “watchdog” or critical system role of period).                                                        2. Stimulation of an active and informed democratic system and social life.                                                                    3. The chance to express ideas, beliefs and views about the world.                                                                                  4. Continue renewal and change of culture and society.                                                                                                  5. Increase in the amount and variety of freedom available Source: Eldon et al (1985).

2.2.11 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)  The Nigeria freedom information Act was passed into law on May 28, 2011 after the longest legislature debate in Nigeria history. The law was passed to enable the public to access certain government information, in order to ensure transparency and accountability. The bill was developed by the freedom of information coalition. The act aims to make public records and information more freely available and to protect public records and information in accordance with the public interest and protection of personal privacy. It enables citizens to hold the government accountability in the event of the misappropriation of public funds or failure to deliver public services. The act further regulates conflicts between provision and those of other legislation (e.g. the criminal code, penal code or official secret Act) that prescribes criminal penalties for actions connected to the disclosure of information. Section 27 of the law provides that no civil or criminal proceedings may be brought against an officer of any public institution or against anyone acting on behalf of public institutions for the disclosure in good faith of any information pursuant to the act.                                                                                 Section 30 further provides that the actins intended to complement replaces, the existence procedures for access information.                                 In any economy, freedom of information is a fundamental indicator of economic development and progress civic engagement and a property functionary democracy. Although the act is a promising start in ensuring good governance and rule before it can be fully implemented. The act recognises a range of legitimate exemptions and limitations to the public right to know although these are subject to a public interest test which in deserving TCSS, may override such exemptions and limitations.

2.2.12 Exemptions of Freedom of Information Act

As mentioned, the public right to know is subject to certain exemptions. Access may be denied to know is subject to sought could compromise national-security, the conduct of international affairs or trade secrets, pertains to administrative enforcement agency, provided that the public interest in disclosure does not outweigh the injury that the disclosure may cause. Section 14 of the act provides that public institutions may not disclose personal information, except where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the individual’s right to privacy.

However, such disclosure is subject to the consent of the individual, or may otherwise be affected only when the information that is subject to legal privilege and any other professional privilege conferred bylaw. Also, public institution may deny access to information or research materials prepared by faculty members.

2.3 Theoretical Framework

These are many theories that have existed to address the illusion and reality of press freedom in attaining a true democratic system of government in Nigeria. But the most appropriate theory that will be used for this work is the Development Media Theory.

This theory seeks to explain the normative behaviour of the press in countries that are congenitally classified together as “developing countries” or “third world countries”. The major tents for Development Media Theory, as summed up by McQuail (1987: P121) are as follows

 Freedom of media should be open to economic proprieties and development needs of the societies, media should give priority in news and information to link up with other developing countries which are close geographically, culturally or politically, journalists and other media information gathering and dissemination task etc.

In a developing country like Nigeria, to actualise press freedom, the media must accept and carryout positive development tasks in line with nationally established policy. The government, media and public must also work hand in hand to actualise press freedom; the public should not be restricted to any information.

Mc Quail also summed up that interest of development end the state has the right to intervene in or restrict media operations and devices censorship, subsidy and direct control can be justified.

2.4 Summary of Literature Review

The press, the fourth estate of the realm has maintained a legitimate effort to communicate truth and favourably by influence the opinion of the people in the society. It has been observed that some scholar across Nigeria has tried to cumber media flaws for press freedom to make press freedom a reality, the nation has to be nationally developed.

In conclusion, press freedom cannot be a reality of our national economy is not fully developed. In other words, the media which serves as a tool for scrutinizing people together must be used to checkmate the activities of the government and people so that national economic development will emerge for press freedom to be a reality. The media should also give priority in their content to the national culture and languages.

Illusion and Reality of Press Freedom in Attaining a True Democratic System of Government in Nigeria: A Study of Anambra North.


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