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THE INFLUENCE OF FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW ON JOURNALISM PRACTICE (A STUDY OF ESBS, FRCN, DREAM FM, NTA)
1.1 Background of Study
Freedom of information (Press freedom) could be traced to that age of enlightenment and development of democracy in America. It is a product of libertarianism which derived unarguably from the libertarian theory of the press. It is one of the ingredients of libertarian approach to the theory of media (Goke, 2003). Freedom of information, specifically access to information held by public authorities is a fundamental element of the right to freedom of expression and vital to the proper functioning of a democracy. It is a law that makes provision for the disclosure of information held by public authorities and allowing democracy becomes the order of the day. There has been increasing acceptance of the importance of human rights and in particular of freedom of expression. For a country like Nigeria that has witnessed decades of military rule where press freedom was restricted, it came as a relief when the freedom of information bill was signed into law. Virtually all government information in Nigerian is classified as top secret. Longe Ayodu of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), a Logos based non-governmental organization (NGO), say this veil of secrecy makes\\\ it difficult to get information from any state agency (Ayode, 2011). Plethora of laws prevents civil servants from divulging official facts and figures, notably the official secrets act which makes it an offence not only for civil servants to give out government information but also for anyone to receive or reproduce such information. Further restrictions are contained in the Evidence Act; the pubic complaints commission Act, the Statistics Act and the criminal code amongst others.
Adeleke, (2011), says that idea behind these laws is to protect vital government information, but the level of secrecy is so ridiculous that some classified government files contain ordinary information like newspaper cuttings which are already in the public domain, so impenetrable is the veil of secrecy that government departments withhold information from each other under the guise of official secrets legislation. There are also instances where civil servants refuse to give the National Assembly documentation after being asked to do so.
The result of this is that journalists are denied access to information that is critical for accurate reporting, and unraveling the web of corruption in Nigeria. These issues motivated EdetaenOjoalong with other relevant NGOs to initiate the bill that has become freedom of information act. Historically, the freedom of information bill in Nigeria could be traced back to 1993 during the administration of General Sani Abacha in which transparent government was not the order of the day. EdetaenOjo, head media rights Agenda (MRA) a young organization for the defense of free expression rights. Civil liberties organization (CLO) and the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) Lagos branch spearheaded the drafting of freedom of information bill.
The draft went through several reviews before it was presented to former president Olusegun Obasanjo in early June 1999, with the hope that the bill would be forwarded to the National Assembly as an executive measure. He declined, advising MRA instead to do so if they wished. The bill was then submitted to the National Assembly in 1999, as advised by Olusegun Obasanjo but the legislature’s four year term passed without the bill being voted on. The bill was re-submitted after the present National Assembly was inaugurated a few years ago, it scaled through both the lower and upper chamber of the National Assembly and the harmonized version was passed by both chambers on May 26, 2011, it was conveyed to Goodluck Jonathan on May 27, and he singed it on May 28, 2011. so far two states in Nigeria namely (Ekiti and Lagos states) have adopted the freedom of information acts at state level but they have extended the response date of level from 7 days to 14 days (Ogbuokiri, 2011). Prior to signing this bill to law access to information especially of hybrid public authorities was no go areas for the journalists. People view some information as being sacred with the belief that it was not meant for public consumption.
Inspire of the law on freedom of expression, several institutions still find it difficult to implement this law fully. It is against this backdrop that the researcher decided to undertake the study in order to ascertain the influence of freedom of information law on journalism practice in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the problem
Inspire of the fact the freedom of information law have been seen as a potent instrument towards political, economic, social-economic development of Nigeria and closing the gap created by virtue of long military rule which led to lack of information on how government business is run within the country, several organizations are yet to fully adopt this instrument and put in into practice. The spate of high rate of corruption noticed in every sectors of the economy, the spate of massive ignorance on government daily business, tIe spate of information gap between the government and citizens, the spate of massive unemployment of youth in the country, fallout of secret deals by government which is not exposed, the spate of inequitable resonance sharing within the country are eloquent testimonies that there is dire need for the practice of freedom of information law in Nigeria.
1.3 Objective of the study
The researcher set out the following objectives for this study.
- To ascertain the influence of freedom of information law on the journalism practice in Nigeria.
- To find out the extent of adherence to freedom of information law by government agencies in Nigeria.
- To ascertain citizens level of understanding of the freedom of information law in Nigeria.
1.4 Research Question
Based on the above objectives of the study, the following research questions were asked;
- To what extent has the freedom of information law affected journalism practice in Nigeria?
- Do government agencies adhere to the freedom of information law in Nigeria?
- Does the average Nigerian have good knowledge of the freedom of information law?
1.5 Scope of the study
The study was conducted in media outfits located in Enugu state, they are NTA, FRCN, ESBS and Dream FM Enugu.
1.6 Significant of the Study
The researcher believes that on completion of the study should serve the following:
- It will serve as a source of materials for students or interested researcher who intend to carryout further study on the same or similar topic.
- It will assist government in bridging the gap in information created by obsolete laws restricting journalists from accessing vital information.
- It will assist policy makers, analysts and media stakeholders make vital decisions in the media sector of the economy.
1.9 Operational Definitions of Terms
To guard against ambiguity in the meaning of the word and phrases used in the study.
The researcher would like reader to understand the following definition of terms.
- Freedom of speech: the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without of fear of government retaliation or censorship.
- Freedom of expression: any act of seeking receiving and imparting information or ideas regardless of the medium used.
- Freedom of information: is an extension of freedom of speech, a fundamental human right arecognized in international law, which is today understood more generally as freedom of expression in any medium, be it orally, in writing, print, through the internet or through art forms.
- Freedom: the power or right to act speak, or think freely, the state of having free will
- Information: facts of knowledge provided or warned at what is conveyed or represented by a particular sequence of symbols, impulses etc.
- Journalism: the activity or profession of being a journalist or from the Wikipedia is the work and distribution of reports on the interaction of events, facts, ideas, and peoples that are the news of the day and that informs the society to at least some degree. The word applies to the occupation (professional or not) the methods of gathering information, and the organizing literary styles.