Section 22 of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution provides that, “the press, radio, television and other agencies of mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.”
By virtue of the above provision, the constitutional powers and duties or obligation of the press are to help government realize the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy as contained in the Constitution. The media or the press is also expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people. In other words, the press performs a nation builder role (development journalism) as well as being a watchdog of government actions or activities pertaining to governance, transparency and accountability.
The media being the fourth estate of the realm has got a lot to do in ensuring that good governance is enhanced in the country. Government (politics) and the media are inseparable; both cannot be isolated from each other because they are both institutions of the society. The media has been empowered by the society to represent its interest by checkmating the government of the day. Likewise, the government in power is also responsible to the society.
Therefore, in a situation where the representatives in government get intoxicated by the virtue of their power, the society expects the media to put them back on the right track because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Looking at section 22 of the 1999 Constitution vividly, “the media are empowered at all time be free to uphold the fundamental principles of governance.” The keywords here are “all times” and “free” i.e. freedom to pursue or seek, gather, analyze and interpret, disseminate information pertaining to the governance of the general populace without prior restraint or constraint by the government or any other interest.
In fact, the Constitution also affirmed that government responsibility and accountability must be upheld by the media and further reported or disseminated to the general public. However, the accompanying problem to actualize these fundamental goals of journalism enshrined in section 22 is that, there are limitations to access or assessment of government held information. These limitations arise from government argument that not all government activities should be made public. The government through the Official Secret Code Act and Criminal Code Act limits the extent to which the press or public officer representing the interest of government could divulge or reveal information received in confidence on the excuse that such matter is classified or confidential.
Also, in section 39(1): Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection(1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinion.
The freedom of expression, including holding opinions, to receive and impart ideas or information is very fundamental to the development of any society because information is power and when the power is gotten, transformation changes can be achieved by the people. Consequently, the Constitution says without prejudice i.e. without discrimination or favouritism, every person shall be allowed to own a means of mass communication or information dissemination in the country.
It’s also important to state that, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in article 19 of the document provides for the fundamental right of expression, holding of opinion and disseminating such opinion; receiving information from others as well as imparting through various ways of communication without interference or restriction.
In the light of the above, Nigeria is a signatory to this declaration because of her formal membership of UN. However, the enforcement and implementation of this declaration is not fully adhered to by the Nigerian government. Instances of this challenge are contained in the same section of the 1999 Constitution that affirmed freedom of expression and the press.
Section 39(2), part ‘B’ says, “No person other than the government or any other person or body authorized by the president shall be allowed to own, establish or operate television or wireless broadcasting for any purpose whatsoever. Also, section 39(3) (A-B) states that, nothing in this section i.e. ‘freedom of expression and the press’ shall invalidate any reasonable law that is justified in any democratic society for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of information that is classified as confidential or official matter. This section further affirmed the restriction of persons in the employment of government services to disclose any information in which they are privilege to.
To this end, freedom of expression and of the press enshrined in section 39 is only workable on the one hand and limited on the other hand due to government restrictions and constrictions through various laws or statutes.
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