Editor's note: Every year, 3 May is a date that celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom globally. Moshood Isah, a communications expert and media officer, Yiaga Africa writes on the significance of the day and what it means for the Nigerian media.
In the word of Joseph E. Stiglitz:
“Information is a public good, and as a public good, it needs public support.”
The very least Nigerian media deserve is the support from all stakeholders to enable it to continue playing its role of “Fourth Estate of the Realm” and of course the fourth arm of government that consistently checkmate other arms of government.
However, the recent sanctions of some media houses in Nigeria for providing information that serves the public good is not a good sign. Recently, the publisher of the Daily Nigerian newspaper, Jaafar Jaafar, had to hide after he received threats to his life. This may not be unconnected to the video he released in 2018 showing a governor allegedly receiving kickbacks in foreign currency. Similarly, the editor of The Weekly Source newspaper, Jones Abiri, arrested and detained on terrorism allegations just for exposing the rot in the system through journalism. He was held in secret for more than two years without access to his family or a lawyer. Despite the dismissal of the charges against him by the court, he was rearrested again, detained for some months before released on bail.
The #EndSARS protest against police brutality is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians as it came with not just suppression of citizens’ voices but also clampdown on media houses for reporting first-hand information on the brutality of security personnel against citizens. According to Committee to Project (CPJ), over 1400 journalists have been killed in the last three decades with about 274 journalists imprisoned in just 2020. So far in 2021, 66 journalists have been declared missing all over the world. Journalists in Nigeria have had a fair share of these figures with issues bothering on covering dangerous assignments, authority clampdown, and attacks by security agents amongst others.
Despite all these enormous challenges, the Nigerian media have been very instrumental in effecting positive change as they continue to provide information that serves the public good. The trend of investigative reporting has played crucial roles in exposing corruption and brought issues around accountability and transparency to the fore of national discourse. These investigative reports have in some cases triggered actions and investigations. While more action is expected to be taken to ensure investigative reports make a more necessary impact, journalists need all necessary support to continue to unearth the ills of society.
In recent years, journalists have dared the odds, took a huge risk to expose rots in the system. A typical example is the case of Fisayo Soyombo who spent days in police custody and Nigerian prison to expose corruption, maltreatment, and social injustice in the Nigerian criminal justice system. This menace is rife right from the police stations, the criminal justice lawyers, and judges to the prison system. While bearing the risk and threats to life that came with this, the journalist shared information that serves the public good.
Similar investigative reports have exposed issues around illegal and dangerous mining in Nigerian communities, the corruption and rot in Nigeria’s health system, civil service education system amongst other critical issues. The trend of fact-checking has also ensured that information further serves the public good as Nigerian media continue to evolve amidst all odds.
Successful examples abound on how media have been able to amplify information for the public good. The historic age reduction bill was driven by Civil Society Organisations like Yiaga Africa through the support of the media. This came via consistent publicity via electronic, print, online, and social media to drive home the importance of political inclusion in Nigeria. The ongoing campaign to fix Nigeria’s election through citizens-driven electoral reform has also remained on the front burner of national discourse.
Thus, it is pertinent, especially for authorities to recognize and promote the idea of information as a public good, which helps to advance collective aspirations and forms the key building block for knowledge. This is basically what the media is geared to achieve in Nigeria and across the world. As we mark World Press Freedom day 2021, we celebrate journalists who provide information that serves the public good. The entire nation must continue to strive to promote press freedom for the good of society.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.
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