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Reflections on World Press Freedom Day

Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M May 3 of every year is World Press Freedom Day. This year’s  edition was marked by the United Nations UNESCO with…

Ibrahim Ahmad Kala, LL.M

May 3 of every year is World Press Freedom Day. This year’s  edition was marked by the United Nations UNESCO with a theme: “Journalism under digital siege”.

According to the United Nations, the World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.

Since then, May 3, the anniversary of the declaration of Windhoek has been celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day.

After 30 years, the historic connection made between the freedom to seek, impart and receive information for the public good remains as relevant as it was at the time of its signing. Special commemorations of the 30th anniversary are planned to take place during World Press Freedom Day International Conference.

May 3 acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Therefore, the essence of a free press is no longer incontrovertible in any democratic set up. It has become the hallmark of every civilised society. It has also become an important index of modern development, and more desirable in every society than ever before.

A free press helps to preserve individual liberty as well as minority interests. The press, through its unhindered access to the populace, can air every spectrum of opinion. Thus, it is not only the government that has access to the monopoly of information. Governments all over have often attempted to over-stretch their influence and power.

In consequence, the rights and liberties of citizens have often been trampled upon or taken away. The press has always been one of the semi-official avenues for individuals and groups to cry out for succour and attention.

A free press is also the most potent tool in the struggle for the sustenance of free speech  and expression in society. If the press is chained, certainly, the right of free expression by groups and individuals will suffer. The press provides the rights forum for the articulation of the views of other persons and groups other than the government’s.

A free press is also a helpful instrument in the necessary and positive task of criticising government programmes and policies, and formulating alternatives. Positive criticism, as some refer to it, has become a hallmark of the modern state. The task of leadership and formulating ideas is no longer restricted to the three arms of government.

The press rightly sees itself as the ‘Fourth Estate’ that has the genuine role to play in the art of governance. Such a role for the press is fundamentally premised on the articulation of workable alternatives.

The dissemination of information to the public is also a pivotal role of the press in society. While the press may not create the news, it does disseminate information about the society, government and about other societies.

The press also offers a good courts or platforms for the resolution of grievances and misunderstandings. There are columns for the articulation of personal views in the newspapers. Paid adverts are also available while reactions to other views may also be freely expressed.

Editorial pages also frequently attempt to critically assess to resolve socio economic, and political chalenges.

The press is also often at the frontline in the moulding of public opinions and reactions. By virtue of their training, exposure and experience, they are in positions to sensitize the public and mould their opinions on various issues.

As helpful and desirable as press freedom is in modern societies, unfortunately, there have arisen from some quarters strong voices on its potential ‘evils’. Some have felt that unrestrained press freedom would lead to abuses and a spate of irresponsible journalism.

The press in some countries has also been accused of constituting possible threats to national security once allowed to enjoy absolute freedom just like the Twitter – Nigerian Government face-off that heralded the suspension of the media giant following the reports on the #EndSARS protests that nearly brought down the country.

Local media such as Channels News had the hammer of the Nigerian Brodcasting Commission (NBC) too when it transgressed and breached the “broadcast codes” in its reportage and consequently, had a reasonable fine imposed on it.

Similarly, Vision FM did not escape the sanction of the NBC when the former in one of its earlwhile Hausa program, “Idon Mikiya” where it seemed to be analysing and questioning a highly classified government security activities including appointments at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), thereby constituting a breach of the provision of section 39(3)(b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which imposes restrictions on matters concerning government security services or agencies established by law.

Different obstacles are often placed on the path of journalists – and justified by arguments of state security and fears of irresponsible behaviors in our society.

Indeed, this year’s theme: “Journalism under digital siege”, – where every average Android user is now a self acclaimed journalist, calls for retrospection and circumspection. Our mainstream media should look inward to always uphold their traditional place as the Fourth Estate of the realm.

Kala Esq is the Head of Litigation Department, Court of Appeal Gombe

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