The State of the Press
Our Liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.
– Thomas Jefferson
The activities of the press dates back to the colonial era, from the days of the struggle for self-government and true liberty. Nationalists and founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ernest Okoli, Obafemi Awolowo amongst others, used the print media to create awareness and expose the evil machinations of the colonial powers thereby voicing their need for independence.
The press which recorded huge success in its battle for and to obtain the political, social and economic emancipation of Nigerians is tagged the “watch dog” and it is a symbol of the pen which is dubbed mightier than the sword. A typical press is the voice of the populace and a necessary tool for the enthronement of democracy. Just as a watch dog, it ought to readily scout through dangers just to unearth and project truth, due to the masses and to ensure fairness, justice and security.
As the fourth estate in the realm, it is a necessary tool for governance since it acts as a tool for surveillance, information, education and entertainment. The press with the aid of well structured articles, camera shots, editorial cartoons, capture and reveal the state of the affairs in the polity. The press is very instrumental in forming a popular opinion, due to its large reach, status conferring and agenda setting nature. It is little wonder then that most autocratic leaders are careful of the kind of information given to the public by the press. Since public opinion equals the support or rebuttal of the government of the day, the government has hijacked the press and doctored what it produces.
In our contemporary society, the press have become nothing but puppets in the hands of the government in power, churning out messages that protect their selfish interest. The metaphorical representation of a giant dog in chains, behind iron bars is the present state of the press. Due to the importance of the press and the attention it gets from the government of the day and the public, there has been series of attacks, especially by the government on the ethics and professionalism of its necessary activities and this has affected its truthfulness, neutrality and impartiality to a very large extent.
Even as much as we won’t relegate to the background the issue of the battle between professionalism and survival and the private ownership of media houses and how it affects the impartiality of the press, the issue of corruption as regards the practice of brown envelope where cash are given to reporters or editors to conceal negative stories as it relates to them and publish positive ones is the major bait that has thrown the press behind bars.
The aftermath is a regretful trade in destiny for a little pot of porridge; where the press ought to be exercising dominion and control over government and governance, they’ve become the controlled and this has affected the developmental strides of our county. With the press behind the bars of corruption, darkness and servitude, its role in bringing about a change in an oppressive system has been replaced with its love and praise of a corrupt system.
We’ve got to go back to the drawing board as a people. Existing press associations must unify to fight for and protect the interest of the press as it relates to the good of the society and her overall development.
By Ethel Osas and Naomi Unuane