By Rotimi Williams Olatunji
JEAN-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), author of Social Contract (1762), wrote: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Oxford Concise Dictionary of Quotations, 2001). This statement seems to have relevance to the global community today than it did during the life and times of Rousseau.
With the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other international conventions and instruments, and the inclusion of press freedom clauses in constitutions of many nations of the world today, it is not in doubt that the legal and constitutional environments under which the press and journalists operate do in fact guarantee press freedom. But in reality, in most nations globally, the enjoyment of freedom of expression and of the press is impaired. The modern press may be born into, and operate within an environment of freedom, but everywhere, the press is in chains.
What is World Press Freedom Day?
Your Excellencies here present, Honourable Commissioners, gentlemen of the Press, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. We are here today in continuation of the celebration of World Press Freedom Day, a day usually celebrated on May 3rd annually, in over 100 countries of the world. It is therefore worthwhile for us at this occasion to begin by placing on record our appreciation to the United Nations Organisation (UNO) and in particular the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), for being at the forefront of ensuring that the right atmosphere exists everywhere in the world for the sustenance of Press Freedom and freedom of expression for citizens of the world. We congratulate the Director- General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, for keeping faith with the mandate of the global body.
May 3rd has been set aside to celebrate press freedom and freedom of expression; assess the state of press freedom in different parts of the world as well as pay tribute to journalists and other related professionals who lost their lives in the course of their official duties. It is also a day for us to defend the media from attacks, raise awareness of the importance of press freedom, gender equality in the media and award honours (the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize) to the individual or organization that has made the most outstanding contribution to the defense and or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world. We in Nigeria therefore join the rest citizens and countries of the world to celebrate the 2014 World Press Freedom Day. We salute Ahmet SIK, the 2014 UNESCO/ Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Laureate for his gallantry in standing out in the defense of Freedom of the Press in Turkey, his country.
What to Expect from this Address
My Keynote Address focuses on the theme for the 2014 World Press Freedom day: “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the Post-2015 Development Agenda”. This theme is apt, so also are the three sub-themes. Accordingly, in this address, it is my intention to examine issues relating to: Concept and Evolution of Press Freedom; global overview of threats to press freedom and media professionals; sustainability and integrity of journalism; and the contributions of media to development, along with appropriate recommendations.
Concept and Evolution of Press Freedom
In his message to the United States Congress on 6th January 1961, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1884-1962) opined:
We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…. The fourth is freedom from fear.
(Source: Oxford Concise Dictionary of Quotations, 2001)
Freedom of expression and of the Press is foundational to all other freedoms and an inseparable part of the collective rights that we refer to as Fundamental Human Rights as contained in Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They include right to life; freedom of speech, thought, press, religion and association; right to participate in one’s country’s government and other categories of Civil and Political rights. The legendary Roosevelt placed the freedom of expression and of the press as number one in his well considered scale of preference, underpinning the importance of this right. This seems to be re-echoed by the Director-General of UNESCO , Irina Bokova as she declared:
For UNESCO, freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, that is vital for rule of law and good governance, and that is foundation for inclusive societies. Freedom of expression stands at the heart of media freedom and the practice of journalism, as a form of expression aspiring to be in public interest. (UNESCO, 2014, p. 6).
We refer to human rights as fundamental because they are inalienable; they are universal and critical to a person’s existence. They cannot be transferred, waved or forfeited except with the due process of the law.
Servaes and Verschooten (2002, p. 56) posited that human rights (including freedom of expression and press freedom) are moral rights of the highest order, applicable to all at all times,. In addition to Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, other instruments guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the Press are Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights of December 10, 1966; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and constitutions of most of the nations of the world, such as the one enshrined in Section 39, Chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thus human rights are broadly divided into Civil and Political Rights; Rights to Social and Economic Development; and Developmental Rights (Right to Development). But it is upon the foundation of civil and political rights, and most importantly, the freedom of speech and expression, that other rights rest.
Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Therefore freedom of speech and expression refers to one’s rights to articulate an opinion without any form of censorship, punishment, or hindrances.
The struggle for press freedom may have started with the martyrdom of Socrates (470-399 BC) who was killed for allegedly corrupting the youths of Athens with his ‘strange’ idea about their freedom; Galileo Galilie (1564-1642), who was killed for his scientific discoveries, contrary to what the authorities of his days knew as the ‘truth’; (Okoye, 2007) and the scholarly writings during the rise of Liberalism in Europe, a movement that supplanted medievalism and eventually gave birth to capitalism.
Clyde (1934) traced the travails of the press to the reign of the Tudors and Stuarts in the United Kingdom when press freedom was curtailed through the practice of licensing and placing a limitation on the number of printers that were allowed to operate. John Milton came out with his timeless publication, Areopagitica (1644), which attacked the licensing law, amongst others. This eventually became a cornerstone of press freedom, leading in 1695 to the abolition of censorship laws in England. The struggle continued, with the First Amendment (1791) to the U.S. Constitution that declared that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”, The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. (2012).
Patterson (1939, pp. 34-36) observed:
Thus, the eighteenth century marked the shift of press control from the Crown to Parliament and the real struggle for freedom of speech and of the press. It was an era of large movement and ideological conflict. In England, it saw the introduction of a party system of government with an alert and vocal opposition; at its end, in America and France, the birth of formal constitutionalism and declarations of the Rights of man. Moreover, in the eighteen century, the newspaper began to be an active agency in politics; and, as such, they also became champions of freedom of speech and of the press.
The Liberal struggle for freedom of the press, although long and bitter, eventually produced what was later christened the Liberal theory of the press, a theory that looks at press freedom from the individualistic perspective, championed by the likes of John Locke, Voltaire, Wilkes, Paine, J.S. Mill, and Jefferson, among others. Becker (1945, pp. 29-30) recalled that the Liberal theory of the press was based on four assumptions, namely that men always desire to know and will be guided by the truth; the free competition of opinion in the market place of idea is the sole method of knowing the truth; that each man must be permitted to canvass his own opinion, since individuals differ in opinions, “freely and strenuously… provided he accords to others the same right; and that as a result of mutual toleration and comparison of diverse opinions, the one that seems most plausible and reasonable will eventually emerge and generally accepted. Becker, 1945, pp29-30), explained the basis of Liberalism in this way:
If men were free to inquire about all things, to doubt all things and dismiss all things, to form opinions on the basis of knowledge and evidence, and to utter their opinions freely, the competition of knowledge and opinion in the market of rational discourse would ultimately banish ignorance and superstitions in conformity with the fundamental and invariable laws of nature and the Will of God.
Writing on the general concept of Liberty, Mill (1863, p.110) warned us that in adopting democratic practices and freedoms, we should desist from imposing the “tyranny of the majority” on the minority. He said:
The majority being satisfied with the ways of mankind as they now are, cannot comprehend why those ways should not be good for everybody; and what is more, spontaneity forms no part of the ideal of the majority of moral and social reformers, but is rather looked on with jealousy, as a troublesome and perhaps rebellious obstruction to the general acceptance of what these reformers, in their judgment, think would be best for mankind.
In other words, freedom of expression and of the press implies that the minority should be allowed to be both heard and seen. In the performance of its function as the Watchdog or Guide-dog of the society, the press must not only preserve its own freedom of expression, but it must equally prevent infringements on the freedoms of others in all spheres of life. If this role is now universally recognised and legally entrenched, we may as well ask the question: what is the state of freedom of expression in the global environment today?
Media in an Era of Globalisation
From the days of the first printed book in China in 686; through the Gutenberg’s revolutionary movable type in 1453; the publication of the first English Language newspaper in 1620, to the days of the discovery of the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, jukebox, cinematography, wireless telegraphs, the loudspeaker, radio, television and the current Internet revolution, “What constitutes “the media”, has both expanded and proliferated”, (Locksley (2009, p.1). The world’s first commercial radio station (KDKA of Pittsburg) began in 1920; the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began in 1925; it began its High –definition TV broadcast in 1936 and in 1948, Cable TV was introduced in the US. The revolutionary era began with the Internet and associated new media all of which are creating “new industries and social action (and players) which indicates the direct contributions of the media to development” (Locksley, 2009, p.1). The inextricable link between the media and technological changes continuously impact media content, platform, devices, and the conduct of professionals in the media industry. This view is also contained in the recent document by UNESCO (2014, p. 7) which states:
Technological convergence has expanded the number of and access to media platforms as well as the potentials for expression. It has enabled the emergence of citizen journalism and spaces for independent media, while at the same time fundamentally reconfiguring journalistic practices and the business of the news.
Coincidentally, emergence of new media and professionals is also impacting on freedom of expression and of the press, positively and or otherwise. The traditional concept of the journalist and journalism profession is in a convulsion. Citizen journalists, bloggers, Internet broadcasting, and other emerging practices are changing the traditional approach to journalism, with attendant implication for objectivity, truth, fairness, and other cannons of journalism. An earlier publication (UNESCO, 2013, p. 2) draws attention to the changing nature of journalism and journalists, defined now as:
Individuals who observe and describe events, documents and analyse events, statements, policies, and any propositions that can affect society, with the purpose of systematizing such information and gathering of facts and analyses to inform sectors of society or society as a whole.
Thus individuals such as journalists, media workers and social media producers who generate a significant amount of public-interest journalism are now classified as belonging to the pen profession, (UNESCO, 2013). This poses associated challenges in the realm of professionalism, ethics and other cannons of journalism. In his assessment of the cohabitation of both traditional and new media, Locksley (2009, p.2) observes that:
The 20th century witnessed the development of the mass media and the foundations of a global media. The mass media are essentially a one-way, top-down phenomenon in terms of content-production and distribution. In the 21st century the transformation of the media is accelerating as a consequence of the digitalization of content and its global distribution over digital platform to digital devices.
The digital transformation supplements, and at times by-passes, traditional models and platforms by introducing two-way, bottom-up, and literal content distribution and production with new devices. Internet payment-enabled music – and video-playing mobile phones with cameras are recent addition to the new media, adding a fourth ‘screen’ to those of cinema, television and personal computers.
Thus new media provide ideal context for every individual to become an active participant in news production, distribution, interpretation and monitoring, an equally perfect atmosphere to exercise freedom of expression and of the press. It is a largely interactive environment that facilitates two-way, exchange of ideas, information and clarifications. Perhaps there is no other era than now when the freedom of expression and of the press must necessarily be given the right fillip.
However, in spite of the increasing popularity of new media and on-line news channels, “traditional media institutions and traditional media platforms remain predominant in most regions and television and radio remain the media by which most of the world’s people get their news”, (UNESCO, 2014, p. 9). Earlier, Locksley (2009, p.2) said something similar:
New media do not displace old. Rather, they sit side by side. Hardcopy newspapers and books are still published, but can also be accessed on the Internet. The news can be received on radios, watched on TVs, or accessed on laptop computers and mobile handsets. …Traditional radio and TV will continue to be the most effective ways of delivering high-quality information on issues such as health care and education, and debating issues of general interest and promoting a culture of peace.
What then are the forces threatening press freedom and freedom of expression on a global, regional, national or individual basis?
State of Press Freedom Today
How committed are political actors to guaranteeing press freedom? Do geographical location of countries, political system and differences in level of economic development amongst countries and regions of the world account for level of enforcement of freedom of expression and of the press? Does gender of journalists and media workers account for differences in the level of enjoyment of freedom of expression and of the press?
“Journalism is frequently unsafe”, writes UNESCO (2013, p. 3). This verdict applies to situations of media workers globally. Increasingly, new challenges such as such Internet censorship, terrorism, anti-terrorism laws, criminalization of Libel Law, press censorship and other forms of draconian rules in several parts of the world erode the gains of previous centuries with regards to press freedom. In an assessment of the situation, UNESCO (2014, p. 8) declares that even in regions:
That have experienced democratic transitions, progress towards greater press freedom has lost momentum in some cases, and press freedom laws have not always been effectively implemented. National security, and anti-terrorism and anti-extremism laws have been used in some cases to curtail dissenting views in the media, while also underwriting expanded surveillance, which may be seen to violate the right to privacy and to jeopardize freedom of expression.
Resultantly, there is a growing trend towards laws, policies and applications of technologies that filter or out rightly block access to content online, increases in cyber crime laws and other practices limiting free flow of information.
On a yearly basis, the numbers of journalists that are imprisoned are on the increase. A data compiled by Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) reveal that while 81 journalists were imprisoned globally in 2000, the number rose to 232 in 2012 and slightly declined to 211 in 2013. The Table below (Table 1) is instructive.
Source: http://cpj.org/imprisoned/2013.php, retrieved on 27th April 2014
The highest figure was recorded in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey (described as the worst offender) and Pakistan among others. In the African continent, Sudan, Libya, and Equatorial Guinea are replete with oppressive laws and practices. Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed, detained Al Jazeera journalists (by the military rulers in Egypt were even denied bail on Press Freedom day this year; they have been detained without trial for over 263 days now, since 2013.
Moreover, Reporters Without Borders highlighted cases of human rights abuses against journalists in 2013, including: Killing of 71 Journalists; Arrest of 826 journalists; a total of 2160 journalists threatened or physically attacked; the kidnapping of 87 journalists; and a total of 77 journalists fled their respective countries (for fear of sanctions/official attacks). In the same period, six (6) media assistants were killed, along with the killing of netizens and citizens-journalists, and the arrest of 137 bloggers and netizens So far, the total number of journalists killed globally between January and April 2014 stands at 28 (http://www.un.org/en/events/pressfreedomday/background.shtml, retrieved on 27 April 2017.
With specific reference to Nigeria, the picture is not remarkably different. Between 1996 and 2013, a total of 18 journalists in Nigeria had lost their lives, many of them in the course of their official duties. Unfortunately, none of their killers had been identified nor brought to book, a clear case of impunity. Nigeria has been identified as one of the most hostile nations where impunity is the norm, as far as murder cases and crimes are concerned. Journalists in Nigeria are victims of impunity. UNESCO (2013, p. 4) reports that out of 245 cases of journalists killed in the course of duty between 2006 and 2009, only nine (9) cases had led to a conviction.
It therefore concludes that:The impunity for killers and perpetrators of violence against journalists serves to fuel a cycle of killings. It serves to intimidate the broader citizenry and undermines public confidence in the rule of law. It is widely accepted that safety of journalists will never be resolved if impunity is not addressed.
The Table below, derived from the website of Committee for Protection of Journalists, shows individual journalists killed in Nigeria.
Source: https://cpj.org/killed/africa/nigeria/ on 3rd May 2014
Many of these deaths occurred within the print media industry; some journalists were victims of targeted killings, or victims of Boko Haram bombings. Female journalists were not also excluded. Disturbingly, none of the killers of the journalists had been identified or brought to book, confirming that impunity against journalists is high in Nigeria.
Another report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (Al Jazeera and The Associated Press) shows that since 2009 in the US, six government employees and two contractors, including former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, have been targeted for prosecution under the 1917 Espionage Act with accusations that they leaked classified information to the press. There were just three such prosecutions under all previous U.S. presidents. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/10/cjp-publishes-unprecedentedreportonuspressfreedom.html
Moreover, in the world’s largest democracy (the US) those suspected of discussing classified information are increasingly subject to investigation, lie-detector tests, scrutiny of telephone and email records and now surveillance by co-workers under a new “Insider Threat Program” that has been implemented in every agency, the report said.
Violence against journalists also wears a gender costume, with female journalists exposed to additional threats including intimidation, physical violence, sexual violence, tapping, hacking and digital security threats, and actual killings, also in war situations and terrorist attacks. Alana Barton and Hannah Storm (2014) carried out an online of 1,078 female journalists between August 2013 and January 2014, using the snowball sampling technique.
The report summary shows that a majority of the respondents had experienced several forms of intimidation, threats or abuse in the course of their work, including death threats. It found that “the majority of threats, intimidations and abuse directed toward respondents occurred in the work place and was perpetrated most often by male bosses, supervisors and co-workers”; but most incidents were un-reported in spite of the psychological discomforts experienced by the victims (Barton & Storm, 2014).
Writing on the physical safety of journalists, UNESCO (2014, p.84) says that between 2007 and 2012, its Director-General condemned the killings of 430 journalists globally. “About 5% of those killed since 2007 were women, reflecting the lower level of representation of women among reporters”.
Victims of such killings cut across all segments of the media industry, including 176 journalists, 100 television journalists and 87 radio journalists. Since 2002, the trend has also been shifting to Internet media actors: “Bloggers and online journalists have been included in the UNESCO condemnations”, including three (3) online journalists killed in 2011 and another 32 killed in 2012 UNESCO (2014, p.85). However, over 60% of the total killings occurred in Asia and the Pacific. The increases in the number of killings of journalists in the Middle East in recent times have also been linked with the on-going violent conflicts in that region.
Terrorism also poses threats to journalism and press freedom. Ross (2007) identified the dilemmas that journalists face in the coverage of terrorism related news, namely that of selective reporting; editorial discretion or otherwise; lack of specialists focusing on terrorism; misinformation given to reporters by national security agencies; news media obstructing counter-terrorist efforts; and sensationalism. Ross (2007, p. 217) noted that terrorists often impose conditions under which they (terrorists) will speak which may lead to ‘selective reporting’.
He noted further that any deviation portends danger for the safety of journalist: “some reporters have been kidnapped and killed in their efforts to talk with terrorists”, citing the case of Daniel Pearl, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal who was working in Lahore, Pakistan in 2002 and was killed by terrorists. Pearl, he says, “received a tip that a high-ranking member of al Qaeda was willing to talk with him. Unfortunately, this was a ruse with the express purpose of killing him”, (Ross, 2007, p.217).
The press in Nigeria is also, a direct victim of Boko Haram insurgency. For example, on April 26, 2012, the sect bombed ThisDay newspaper offices in both Abuja and Kaduna during which time three Nigerians lost their lives. Nsereka and Orlu-Orlu (2014, p. 36) traced the bombing to the “lies” about the activities of Boko Haram by the newspaper.
This 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