By Rotimi Williams Olatunji
In an online statement, the group boasted that it bombed ThisDay newspapers because they reported many “lies” about Boko Haram. According to the statement, the group was (also) carrying out a revenge on the newspaper for publishing a story in 2002 about the Miss World beauty contest slated to be held that year in Nigeria, stating that Boko Haram said the event “dishonoured” Prophet Mohammed.
In a related development, Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for the killing of a photo-journalist and staff of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) in Maiduguri on 22 October 2011, whose alleged offence was that he was an “informant of security agencies” (Nsereka and Orlu-Orlu, 2014, p. 36).
But we need to draw a special attention to the deteriorating condition under which a majority of journalists in Nigeria operate that jeopardizes, threatens or compromises press freedom in Nigeria. I am referring to the tyranny of media employers of labour.
Journalists have often complained about poor remuneration, delay in payment of salaries, poor equipment to work with, including transportation facilities, job insecurity, lack of opportunity for re-training, and the like. Given the near-abject state of many a journalist, it is not surprising that some do compromise the cherished ethics of the profession in order to make ends meet.
The result, often, is biased, inaccurate, partial, and subjective reporting. This is coupled with threats, intimidation and other psychological warfare imposed by restrictive and draconian management of some media houses in Nigeria. This directly leads us to the issue of sustainability and integrity of journalism locally and internationally.
Sustainability and Integrity of journalism
Media actors such as journalists, bloggers, citizen journalists, editors, publishers and other operators may also, directly or otherwise, be hurting the cause of press freedom in several nations of the world through outright disregard for the ethics of journalism. In some cases, objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness and fairness in reporting are becoming rare virtues with notable journalists, providing the context or pretext for censorship, legal restrictions and sometimes outright sanctions by over-zealous political leaderships and institutions.
At other time, unethical practices lower the image of journalism in public estimation. This was exactly the case with the celebrated News International phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom. At the centre of the scandal was Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of News Corporation, the parent company of News International.
Together with the News of the World, other indicted public figures like Sir Paul Stephenson, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service; the Legal manager of News International, Tom Crone and the paper’s Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks, among others, went down with the tabloid. This unique case underscores the extent to which journalists could go to procure news, and is symptomatic of the degree of degeneration in adherence to professional ethical standards of journalism.
Even online journalists are not spared, and the sophistication of new media has now made it possible for journalists to lie with photographs, voice, and data, through several forms of digital manipulations, thus lowering the credibility of news and the high esteem audiences had associated the press with. Such unwholesome practices tend to jeopardize the ideals of press freedom.
Mark Twain who lived between 1835 and 1910 bemoaned the excesses of press invasion into the privacy of the people of his time thus: “There are laws to protect the freedom of the press’ speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Quotations, 2001). Accordingly, adherence to the time-tested ethics and subscription to the social responsibility theory of the press by all stakeholders i.e. an absolute necessity, if press freedom will have meaning for all.
Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda
The abuses to which the press has been subjected to do not in any way invalidate the critical need for media freedom in global development agenda. Role of media in development are multifarious and have been recognised to be so by even the opponents of press freedom. The free enterprise economic development can hardly be contemplated outside the framework of press and or media freedom.
Protagoras, who lived between 485 and 410 B. C. made this profound statement: “Man is the measure of all things” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Quotations, 200)1 The essence of freedom of expression and of the press is to enhance the dignity of man and his economic, social, political and spiritual well being. Development relates to the process of enhancing quantitative and qualitative changes in the life of people in society, regardless of colour, religion or geographical location. Even, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976) has long realized that development burden requires a global, multi-facetted approach, to salvage humanity from annihilation.
It was in awareness of the need for human development that the global community adopted the now popular Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. MDGs are eight international development goals aimed at eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; provision of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and women empowerment; reduction of child mortality rates; and improvement of maternal health. The others are aimed at combating HIV/AIDS, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and the development of a global partnership for development. The year 2015 was set as the terminal date when all the lofty goals would have been achieved.
Similarly, in 1997, world leaders at the World Food Summit held in Rome at Food and Agricultural Organisation headquarters agreed to set the objective of reducing the number of hungry around the world to 400 million people by the year 2015. Servaes (2002). “Poverty is not limited by geography. In fact, the wealthiest country in the world, the USA, is home to pockets of poverty”, submits Thomas (2002, p. 28).
He observes further that about 1.3 billion people world-wide live in absolute poverty comprising more than one- third that are drawn from developing countries, while about 15 percent of population in US and European Union live bellow minimally determined poverty levels. Against this backdrop, Thomas (2002, p. 28) concludes that “poverty is a characteristic feature of the world in which we live”. But how far is the global community striving towards achieving the MDGs and other similar lofty goals?
In an assessment, Lublinski, Deselaers and Berner (2013, p.3) concluded that :
The MDGs are incomplete in various aspects. Firstly, although they are mostly aimed at the well-being of individuals, they do not focus enough on the poorest and most excluded people. Secondly, they neglect a number of important aspects of individual well-being, such as secondary and vocational education, or personal safety or freedom of expression. Also, goals related to good governance such as transparency or political participation.
Preparatory to the review of the outgoing MDGs, the UN set up the “High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons”, which, inter alia recommended the need for “freedom of speech and the media, open political choice, access to justice and accountable government and public institutions”, calling also for “data revolution” for sustainable development (Lublinski, et al, 2013, p. 3).
Servaes (2002, p. 3) defines development communication as “the sharing of knowledge aimed at reaching a consensus for action that takes into account the interests, needs and capacities of all concerned”, adding that development communication is “a social process”. The increasing globalisation of the world calls for uniform, yet diversified approach to multi-faceted global crises that are largely economic, social, ideological, political and ecological in nature, since countries and communities function interdependently. Servaes (2002, pp. 7-8) observes that effective development communication now calls for a:
multiplicity of approaches based on the context and the basic, felt needs, and the empowerment of the most oppressed sectors of various societies at divergent levels. A main thesis is that change must be structural and occur at multiple levels in order to achieve their ends.
Generally, Lublinski and his partners (2013) identified the functions of media in society. As information providers, media make available to the audiences data, knowledge, orientation and education. Media also serve as platforms for cultural expression through strengthening of identity, values and cultural cohesion.
Moreover, media are providers of platform for empowerment when they give voice to individuals, privileged or under privileged, minorities or majorities. Again, media serve as moderators of debates, facilitators of democratic practices, and advocates of human rights, democratic values and pluralism in society. In a related development, Locksley (2009, p. 3) identified four key roles of media in development. The first is that of promoting plurality and transparency. He puts it this way:
Plurality and transparency provides a full-spectrum overarching impact on the development process and individual development initiatives. Good governance is vital for economic development, and the development dividend that it generates is considerable. A plural media environment-meaning a participatory (sometimes two-way) process and a range of media providers across an array of content subjects- enables increase access to information and wider diffusion of knowledge within a country.
Plurality and transparency facilitate informed debate and good governance, both in public institutions and private corporations. Speaking within the same context, Oso (2012, p. 74 ) opines that media “create the possibility of a multi-voice pluralism which can enrich democracy in the country”.
Media plurality and transparency thus promotes the rule of law, fairness, openness and participatory political systems. For media to be effective in the performance of these sacred functions, it is an understatement that freedom of expression and press freedom must be the rule, rather than the exception.
In addition, media also enhance behavioural modifications amongst individuals, groups, and organisations. Media campaigns are often undertaken to promote participation is elections, increase school enrolment, adoption of new technologies and procedures and promoting understanding of health related issues among others. Behaviour change goes side by side with plurality and transparency to produce “the responsiveness and accountability of business and political decision makers to customers and citizens” (Locksley, 2009, p. 9).
Moreover, by providing institutions and platforms, media provide relevant content for driving that are exposed through different channels thus providing avenues for media infrastructural development.
“Producing content is an economic activity with global gross revenues estimated at $1.620 million in 2007”, (Locksley, 2009, p. 11). He stated further that global retail sales of recorded music totaled $33 billion in 2005, as part of the total $100 billion music industry income comprising live shows, online and retail sales, ring-tone sales, radio advertising revenue, music publishing. The potentials of media content, particularly entertainment media for reduction unemployment rate, poverty and hunger is therefore massive.
Freedom of expression and information are critical to fighting poverty and achieving the MDGs. The availability and accessibility of information promotes transparency, resulting in better governance and a reduction of inefficiency and corruption. Information and openness empower people to hold leaders to account, and enables them to participate in the decision making process.
The London Declaration for Transparency, the Free Flow of Information and Development, created in 2010 at an international conference organised by ARTICLE 19 outlines the following principles (http://www.article19.org/pages/en/development-more.html, retrieved on 26 April 2014: that the free flow of information, transparency and civic engagement are fundamental to the achievement of the MDGs, and the global fight against poverty; the free flow of information includes protecting and strengthening the right of all to seek, receive and impart information and ideas related to the MDGs and development, and the existence of a free, diverse and professional media require collecting, producing, and disclosing accessible, credible and disaggregated data on MDG indicators and targets.
Media disseminate information on budgets, aid assistance and revenues from natural and other resources; and civic engagement requires establishing and protecting an enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media, and active participation by all, in particular people living in poverty and those discriminated against, or marginalised.
In place of the top-down, communication model of the 1940s and 50s, (including the “elitist” diffusion mode), Servaes (2002, p.12) calls for “participatory communication”, which he argues has the potentials for addressing the challenge of global poverty, improvement in agriculture, health, education, politics and the environment. He says that the participatory model:
Stresses the importance of cultural identity of local communities and of democratization and participation at all levels…It points to a strategy, not merely inclusive of, but largely emanating from, the traditional “receiver”.
Moreover, Servaes (2002, pp 12-13) maintains that the participatory model of communication recognizes and accommodates the right of all people to individually speak their own word… no one can say a true word alone-nor can he say it for another, in a prescriptive act which robs others of their words.
He explains further that the model allows for reciprocal collaboration throughout all levels of participation, thus allowing viewpoints of all groups in development programming and implementation. This, he says, promotes a paradigm shift from ‘source-centric’ to one of ‘receiver-centric’ model of communication, with emphasis on “meaning sought and ascribed rather than information transmitted”. He aptly concludes:
With this shift in focus, one is no longer attempting to create a need for the information one is disseminating, but one is rather disseminating information for which there is a need. The emphasis is on information exchange rather that the persuasion in the diffusion model. Servaes (2002, p14).
Interestingly, the converged nature of media today makes participatory model of communication both possible and real. New media are increasingly interactive and facilitate instantaneous two-way and multi-directional communication. Print content of newspapers are made available online and allows for immediate feedback Radio and television messages are distributed online and through mobile phones, in addition to traditional channels.
Citizens now participate as bloggers and online journalists. Musical works and videos can be audience generated and uploaded, while podcasting has opened up the broadcasting space. Facts, figures or pieces of information can be instantaneously crosschecked or debunked. The monopoly over news and information by traditional sources seems to have been shattered given the openness that current media landscape provides.
Interestingly also, the so-called traditional media co-exist and assume more prominent role in the new dispensation. For instance, the radio remains ever relevant, particularly because of the relative advantage of cost, mobility and interactivity (used in combination with mobile phone and other digital media. With reference to development communication, the use of community radio has proved ever relevant.
This is so in cases where it is operated in communities, for communities, about communities and through local languages; it involves extensive local participation; and individual community members and local institutions/volunteers are its main sources of support. (Locksley, 2009; Oso, 2012). Needless to remark that the motivation for the establishment of community radio should remain that of engaging it to power community development and for addressing the challenge of poverty. Locksley (2009, p.8) concludes:
Community radio contributes to stronger livelihoods, promotes gender equality and better health and education services, helps fight diseases, and raises awareness of environmental and sustainability issues in individual communities.
In spite of the enormous potentials of community radio, its level of adoption in Nigeria seems to be very low. Most of such radio stations licensed by the Federal government in Nigeria are based on university campuses. Perhaps, community associations, community-based organizations and other interest groups should show increased interest in community radio operations in Nigeria.
Equally, the Federal Government of Nigeria may stimulate more interest in that media sub-sector by putting in place an effective Board to popularize community radio, just as it was done when community banks initially appeared in Nigeria. But the emphasis should shift from government licensing to remove associated bottlenecks and restrictions.
It is equally important for us in Nigeria to begin now to think and talk about the media in coverage of elections in the year 2015 and beyond. Previous electoral campaigns in the country had been fraught with irregularities and violent conflicts. Media are actors in the political process, with critical function of holding political office holders accountable to their electorates.
The arsenal on online or internet media should be heavily deployed with increasing usage of mobile telecommunication channels, given its deep acceptance in the country. Blogging and citizens journalism, along with podcasting and community media will enable citizens to contribute meaningfully and actively to the political and electioneering process.
This will also go hand in hand with the traditional media of radio, television and newspapers. The goal of media will be to enable citizenry access, process, produce and interpret information for informed decision making. The media cannot afford to be partial under this situation, but the political authority must ensure that safety of media operators are safeguarded.
A combination of institutional factors, the political economy of media environment and the actions or inactions of media operators hamper the full realization of role of media in development. This closing section presents critical challenges to be addressed if we are to maximize the role of media in development.
The important issue of media freedom that is facing threat in most countries of the world had been extensively addressed in the preceding portion of this paper. What we must add here is that it is only when media freedoms are protected that they can actually contribute meaningfully to societal development. A collected works of Mill On Liberty (1863, p. 13) posited:
Good individuals comprise the good state; freedom of thought and opinion are necessary to the development of good individuals. Therefore, freedom of speech and of the press are justified by their utility in creating the good state composed of good individuals.
Thomas (2002) identified factors that are often responsible for poverty amongst individuals or groups. Critical ones are lack or resources (material or otherwise); lack of access; and lack of human rights. Thomas (2002, p. 29) submits:
Poverty is not only an indication of lack of resources; it is also rather, fundamentally, about the lack of awareness on the part of the people of their own role in the fight against poverty. In absolute terms political authorities, financial institutions and bilateral bodies may be directly held accountable where poverty is traced absence of resources.
Thus lack of access to information, education or other forms of communication, partly accounts for level of poverty in society. Access to information thus empowers people to deal with their conditions of servitude. It is not only a right, access to information is also “the basis for other related rights, in education, market prices, shelter and employment opportunities”, Thomas (2002, p. 29).
This leads us to an equally important issue of Media and Information Literacy (MIL). Johnson, (2009) warned that it is wrong to assume that the skills for interpreting and creating media-rich messages come naturally to individuals simply because they encounter such content so frequently.
This seems to be case in many sub-Saharan African countries where little or no attention is paid to the need to equip citizens, particularly youths with Media and Information (MIL) literacy skills. Agbata (2013) advocates that youths in Nigeria should rise above being mere consumers to positions where they become media producers and content generators.
The degree of unethical practices among media operators should be frontally addressed. The solution to this menace does not lie in suppressing or curtailing media freedom. Neither does it lie in criminalization of offences, but one in which, on the one hand, the rule of law is strictly followed when handling issues relating to offensive publications; and on the other hand, it requires that media operators becoming more alive to their social responsibility by wholly subscribing to the ethics of the profession.
In this regard, quality media education and professional development of operators are critical, just as media organizations should provide adequate remunerations and other incentives to discourage employees from financial and other forms of inducements. Gender equality and sensitivity to the peculiar needs of female journalists should also be pursued.
To make media freedom a reality, there must be: a political will to support the media sector and rule of law to protect it; the legal and regulatory environment must allows for openness and pluralism; existing laws granting access to information must be respected by government authorities while such laws should be put in place where none exists, and should be extended to publicly quoted companies.
Also, crimes against journalists should not be allowed un-punished; impunity against journalists should be laid to rest. In addition, media workers need to be assisted in boosting the MIL skills, just like we need to invest in the improvement of MIL among students at all levels of education in the sub-Sahara.
Finally, umbilical cord relationships exist between media freedom, transparency, good governance and development. An open, transparent and accountable government will make it possible to reduce or eliminate poverty, and release scarce resources for developmental purposes. More importantly, it will release the creativity and potentials of every sector of the populace to addressing societal problems. Lublinski et al (2013, p. 3) also arrived at this same conclusion when they wrote:
For the next steps towards a post-2015 agenda, communication is key: access to information, inclusive of different actors, the expression of opinion and the provision of public forums. And it is the media that will make an important contribution to sustainability here. They will hold the leaders of the world accountable for their promises, as they do with the current MDGs.
In this onerous task, freedom of expression and press freedom must be safeguarded at all time, in all places, for all the peoples of the world. Post-2015 holds enormous prospects for an increasingly open and knowledge-driven society, although with an equally increasingly challenging macro-environment globally.
Given this scenario, media freedoms, accessibility to information, as well as media and information literacy (MIL) will be decisive. While media operators must not be restricted in the performance of their sacred duties, all actors should exercise self-restrains within the precinct of the rule of law and media ethics.
Thank you for your attention.
This is the concluding part of a keynote address delivered on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2014 by Rotimi Williams Olatunji, PhD Associate Professor, Mass Communication Department of Public Relations and Advertising Adebola Adegunwa School of Communication, Lagos State University, Ojo, Nigeria, at United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), 17 Alfred Rewane Road, Ikoyi, Lagos on May 6, 2014