The purpose of this work was to do an evaluative study of the Freedom of Information Act and media practice in Nigeria. The survey research method was adopted. To this end, the researcher issued 220 copies of questionnaire to randomly selected journalists, broadcasters, advertisers, editors and lecturers in Port Harcourt metropolis. Interviews were also conducted to guide the study development. Simple percentage and tables were used for data analysis. While the study used the development media theory as its theoretical foundation, the findings were that the FOIA has the potency to engender effective media practice as it can only function effectively when some anti-press laws are either expunged or amended. The study concluded that FOIA is a catalyst for freedom with responsibility and good governance, fairness, accuracy, balance and objectivity. It recommended that journalists should go beyond just being aware of the passage into law of the FOIA to acquainting themselves of relevant provisions of the Act so as to maximize the opportunities therein for effective media practice in Nigeria
1.1 Background of Study
Over the years, the agitation for the emergence of a free press society, has been on the front burner of national discuss, especially among journalism practitioners in Nigeria. This is owing largely to the fact that the expediency of having a legislation that guarantees a high level of press freedom cannot be ignored. It cannot be ignored apparently against the backdrop of the attendant positive effect it could have on any society.
The need for a Nigeria Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) had been emphasized by many media scholars. For instance, Ogbondah (2003:128) did note prior to its enactment that:
“The National Assembly should enact or guarantee the press and members of the public the right of access to government-held information including computerized records.”
Similarly, the Media Right Agenda (2004:4) at some point, wrote thus about the FOIA Bill when passed into law as an Act of Parliament, it will make public record and information in the custody of any government-Federal, State or Local available to every person in Nigeria. Accordingly, the right of access of official information, which the Bill grants will be legally enforceable; with the Freedom of Information Act, it will be possible to find out from Governors, Council Chairmen, Ministers, the President or other public officers, details of any transaction conducted in those offices. The law, it is believed, will also give protection to public officers who discover the perpetration of a fraudulent act and reveal is thereby discouraging corruption among public office holders. Moreso, Johnson, as cited by Ogbondah (2003:128-129) also, stated
“A democracy works best when the people have all the information that the security of the nation permits, no one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.”
Before now, the challenges posed by anti-press laws that inundate the Nigerian constitution, have made the process of news sourcing gathering and dissemination, seemingly impossible for journalism. This was well capture by the Nigeria Guild of Editors (2001:96) when it observed that:
“We are conscious of the responsibility of the press but we cannot perform our role creditably unless the shackles wrought by repressive laws are erased from our law books… the realization of this objective is contingent on the freedom of the press to function without any hindrance.”
Unfortunately, the media being the forth estate of the realm and the watch-dog of the leaders and the led cannot successfully carryout this sacrosanct function, without the ample freedom to seek, gather and disseminate information. Taking a cue from the functional aspect of the freedom of Information Act, Yalaju (2001:205) averred that:
“The right of access to information is aimed at strengthening the media by securing and protecting freedom of expression and the press particularly.”
It is against the above grounds that the recently enacted FOIA seeks to make information more available to journalists in the same way it would be available to every other person who might request any information. It is also expected that with the law in effect, the media would have access to more accurate information, which would improve the quality of media practice.
There is no gain saying the fact that the Nigeria Freedom of Information Act was proposed in the context of international affirmation of the rights of citizens to access information held by public bodies as fundamental human right. It is therefore instructive to note that the FOIA is one of the criteria for gauging a truly democratic state. It goes without saying that democracy is at its best, when the people have all the information that the constitution of the nation permits.
Conversely, the stiff resistance by most world leaders towards having the FOIA enshrined in their nation‟s law books has continued to ignite concerns. Little wonder, Amadi (2003:5) argued that:
“The issue of the enactment of an emphatic Freedom of Information Act is still a pawn in the political chessboard of politicians …the reason for sitting on such legislation may not be farfetched from the fact that such venal politicians know that the enactment of such powerful pro-media, pro-people legislation will constitute an effective check on their venality. It will constitute an effective check on their venality. It will constitute a check because the effectuation of such legislation will mean removing the mystifying veil of secrecy which gives governance a kind of larger-than-life posture in such countries. And that is why politicians will continue to balk at it.”
The delay in the passage of Nigerians Freedom of Information Act over a decade after its first proposal in 1999 might not be unconnected to this apprehension amongst Nigeria politicians.
Furthermore, if the media must discharge their duties in the spirit of fairness, accuracy, balance and objectivity, then there should not be an alternative to getting information from the primary sources (government and their agencies) the absence of this is likely to lure the media into “speculative reporting” or worse still rely upon secondary sources, which may be misleading and biased.
It is therefore against these backdrops that this research seeks to appraise the FOIA and how well it rubs off on media practice in Nigeria. In essence, the work seeks to ascertain among other things the extent to which the Act could effectuate effective journalism practice in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of Problem
The recent enactment of the FOI law in Nigeria has been greeted by many proponents of the law as a step in the right direction. Media practitioners believe that the Freedom of Information, as a communication phenomenon will play an essential role in placing Nigeria on the right track of development. It will also increase the people‟s participation in government programmes and policies as well as translate to the enthronement of accountability and good governance. All that said, the problem is the level of preparedness on the part of the core agitators of the FOIA, being the journalists as it relates to their maximizing the provisions of the Act towards effective journalism practice.
While the FOIA promises a lot, its workability in a country like Nigeria, where there is a penchant for violating laws with impurity, tends to puncture its potentials directed towards effective media practice.
Maximizing the potentials of the FOIA in Nigeria depends on how well the media practitioners are acquainted with its provisions. It appears that not many journalists are fully aware of the provisions of the FOIA, thereby limiting their push for information in the custody of government, as well as other public institutions.
Moreso, whether the emergence of the FOIA signals an era of Freedom with or without responsibility, media practice remains an issue of great concern. Similarly, it is a problem that since media practitioners are yet to be well acquainted with the provision of the Act, it becomes difficult making the most of it. Moreso, the argument that the emergence of the FOIA signals an era of freedom without responsibility as well as its threat to national security, remains an issue great concern.
1.3 Objectives of Study
The study seeks to among other things:
- Examine the level of awareness among journalist in Nigeria on the FOIA.
- Determine the extent to which the FOIA can aid media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and objective reporting.
- Ascertain the seeming challenges to the maximization of the FOIA in Nigeria.
- Find out if the FOIA will truly guarantee “unfettered” access to government-held information among journalists in Nigeria.
- Find out if the act will make journalism more promising, especially in determining what or what not to report.
1.4 Research Questions
- What is the level of awareness among journalists in Nigeria on the FOIA?
- To what extent can the FOIA aid media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and object reporting?
- What are the seeming impediments to the effective maximization of the FOIA in Nigeria?
- Will the FOIA truly guarantee “unfettered” access to government-held information among journalists in Nigeria?
- Will the act make journalism more promising especially in determining what or what not to report?
1.5 Hypotheses of the study
Ho: FOIA does not have a significant impact on the media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and objective reporting
H1: FOIA have a significant impact on the media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and objective reporting
1.6 Significance of the Study
This study is significant in more ways than one therefore, the study will attempt to reveal the point of convergence between the FOIA and effective media practice. Aside its immense potency to contribute to the body of knowledge, the study also provides a variable insight into provisions of the FOIA, thereby creating an awareness about the law and its attendant prospects.
Moreso, the study can serve as one existing literature or as an additional literature on freedom of information in Nigeria libraries. It will also be instrumental to prospective researchers who may want to plunge into this similar area of study.
Again, journalists, editors, specialized groups, society, government etc.
stand to gain immensely from the study. For the journalists, it provides them an ample opportunity to press for national development and enthronement of transparency in government. The government, through this study could harness the latent potency of the law as educated in it towards providing quality service to its citizens.
In the same vein, the study is significant to the extent that it provides a platform for government press collaboration which if harnessed, can facilitate national development.
1.7 Scope/Delimitation of the study
This study on on the appraisal of the freedom of information Act is an evaluative study which will aim to appraise the FOIA and how it affects media practice in Nigeria. It will be delimited to National Union of journalists River state branch.
1.8 Limitation of the study
This study is focused on freedom of Information Act. It is limited to assessing how the Act has affected media reporting. It is also limited to opinions expressed by Journalists, editors, advertisers and broadcasters. This implies that members of the public whose speciality are outside mass communication were not considered.
Furthermore, the category of participants selected were limited to River state, this implies that opinions and facts expressed in this study may not be to other states of the federation.
1.9 Definition of Terms
Act: A law made by the National Assembly and has been given presidential assent.
Constitution: A body of laws and principles by which a nation (like Nigeria) or other organization is governed.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): A law that seeks to guarantee citizens access to government-held information.
Journalism: The work of collecting and writing news stories for newspapers, magazine, radio, television and the internet.
Evaluative: Relating to the examination or judgment of the value of the importance of something.
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