AN APPRAISAL OF PRESS FREEDOM IN AFRICAN SOCIETIES (A CASE STUDY OF NIGERIA IN PERIOD OF 1999 – 2003) (MASS COMMUNICATION PROJECT TOPICS AND MATERIALS)
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Siebert, Peterson and schramm in describing the Operation of the press in their book entitled four Theories of the press said that, “The press is not an instrument of government but rather a device for presenting evidence and argument on the basis of which the people can check on government and make up their minds as to policy. It is imperative that the press be free from control and influence so that truth can emerge, all ideas can get fair hearing, that there must be a free market place of ideas and information”.
For the press to play their basic roles, it must exercise full its freedom. In other words, for the freedom of the press to be fully appreciated, we must understand the implication of a citizen having a fundamental right to free access to facts in all matters that directly or indirectly concern them and also the right to express and publish its opinion there on.
It is in realization of these facts that the General Assembly of the united Nations organization on December 14 1946 declared that “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touch stone of all freedom to which united nations is consecrated. In the same view a sub-committee of the common wealth press union headed by Lord Shawcross defined freedom of the press as “The freedom that is not a special privilege of newspaper but derives from fundamental right of every person to have full and free access to the facts in all matters that concern him……. In protection of these fundamental human rights, it is essential that the press should be free to gather news without obstruction to publish the news and coment there on.
From the foregoing, it can be argued that any obstruction on the press freedom is not merecy an attack on the press. It is an indirect encroachment on the fundemental right of the citizen to have knowledge and information. in fact, section 38 sub-sections 1 of the 1989 constitution concedes the right to freedom of expression and press by explicitly stating that, “every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including. Freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impact ideas and information without interference.
Prior to may 29th 1999, the administration of Nigeria was predominated by the military regime. In successive coups begining from July 1966, the military ruled the country. In line with their coercive tendencies which of course sets them up every stratum of the society by those who rule by instrument of coercion. This led to the use of force in carrying out most of the policies that were, however, not spared as in certain cases, headship of most parastatals under government control were change frequently especially those who could not implement such policies. The media as the fourth estate of the realm was not spared from the military obnoxious policies. Their controls which were determined by decrees led to out right closure, permanent. Death, intimidation, etc.