Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria

Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria
Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria

Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria




1.1 Background of the study

No true democracy can function without information. Citizens in any country need accurate information and detailed information to discuss and make informed choices about the future. It is impossible to discuss important social, political and economic issues without it. Information is the oxygen of democracy and if people do not know what is happening in their society or if the actions of those who rule them are hidden, they cannot take a meaningful part in the affairs of that society. Information flow through the media can affect people’s idea, monitor people’s actions and thereby, creating constituencies for change and institutional reforms. To play these roles, the media need to be independent, accountable, able to provide relevant information and reflect social views. These positions describe the inherent relationship between the roles of the media in realising good governance.

The media is often referred to as the watch dog of the society because of its willingness to ‘‘bark’’ when something is arising. To some extent, the media is a beacon or flash light, shining a light on dark corners that some would prefer to ignore. UNESCO (2005:33) is of the view that the media have a crucial function as the sector of the society that is most able to promote vigilance towards the rule of law, especially through fostering investigative journalism, promoting the openness and administrative process to officials and to public documents. Corruption is one of the largest issues nations have to face in the governance process. Corrupt practices rob government off the means to ensure the best of life for their people, while many in governments may feel that exposure of corruption erodes their legitimacy.

Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria

Asemah (2010) notes that democracy entails more than electing the so-called representatives of the people into government. What government later does with the mandate is even much more important and of higher concern to democracy than the mere fact of being elected. Without an independent media, there can be no question of free speech and free discussion of political issues. In other words, the inhibited expression of the different and opposing viewpoints of the citizens of public matters can only be guaranteed in an atmosphere of a free and independent press.

In Western democracies, free flow of news and information made available by an unrestricted and independent press is a fundamental pillar of inclusive governance and a means to specific ends- social equality, political representation and development. This is underpinned by the assumption that democracy depends on media influence- one that promotes boundless political, social and economic debates and reports the actions of political leaders to the electorate. “Press freedom is not only an indispensable pillar of democracy, but also important for the long-term sustainability of social and economic development (Senghore, 2012). The liberal press therefore exerts power and political influence through their ability to reach broad audiences with news and information that shapes public life. An independent press performs informative roles, ensures plurality in the public sphere and more importantly, weave together different threads of a multicultural, multiparty society and connect members of that community ideologically and politically; thereby fostering popular culture that shapes the public’s worldview (Robertson, 2018).

In emerging democracies, to what extent does media influence politics and democracy? This paper, an evaluation of media effect on an evolving, consolidating democracy sought to analyse the impact, if any, of media power in Nigeria- a non- Western, post-colonial, unindustrialized nascent democracy in sub-Sahara Africa with a history of authoritarian rule (colonial and military), complex ethnoreligious polarisation and weak public institutions. Has media power shaped election results and regime outcomes since a new political dispensation took-off in 1999? That year, Nigeria transformed from authoritarian rule into a democracy. Now two decades old, politics is characterised by multiparty, regular and periodic voting. With seven presidential elections and steady transfer of political power, democracy is consolidating. Civil society, opposition groups and the media operate with constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms. News organisations are more economically viable, more independent and more assertive. In 2011, Oso (2011) observed that no news business of influence in Nigeria is owned or tied directly to the apron strings of a political party. This independence, coupled with its agenda-setting force, Oso added, have allowed the media break free from partisan political reporting and hold political office holders accountable as they did during decades of post-independent authoritarian regimes and a century of British imperial influence.

However, the effect of media power on national politics since democratisation in 1999 is a subject of much controversy. On one hand, Adesoji (2010) asserts that politics in Nigeria is largely shaped by media power through public opinion, press agitation and media agenda. Consequently, the press, perceived as powerful is often owned, recruited and/or engaged by politicians and political parties to influence public attitude and win elections. According to Kukah (2012), continued proliferation of new titles (print and online) particularly in Lagos and Abuja since 1999 is proof that media agenda-setting still plays a key role in contemporary Nigerian politics. Kukah argued further that media ownership by politicians and regional coalitions is an enduring feature- one that dates back to 1922. Adesoji, Kukah and others reckon that Nigeria’s news media is independent, detached from partisan politics and well-positioned to sway voting patterns and shape regime outcomes.

On the other hand, media influence on Nigerian politics is increasingly questioned amidst worsening political corruption, state inefficiency and radical insurgency. News production is moulded by political and commercial pressure which complicates and often compromises the media’s ability to fulfil its constitutional role (Jatula, 2017). According to the British Broadcasting Corporation: “The (Nigerian) media has long been accused of being beholden to special interest groups, often placing financial interests above public interest in setting editorial priorities. Politicians and commercial advertisers hold great sway in decisions on story selection and publication…” (BBC Report, 2019). Public distrust of the media, accentuated by fake news, social media propaganda and deliberate disinformation have also eroded trustworthiness to the extent that the public no longer trust the press. A study by Madrid-Morales & Wasserman (2019) found that 93 per cent Nigerians believe they are regularly exposed to fake news and are likely to trust the media less.

The media, in the performance of its duty is expected to be neutral, objective and balanced. However, achieving this has proven to be difficult due to some factors, the most significant of all, being censorship of the media. In Nigeria, as well as other developing countries, freedom is still elusive based on historical information. The media began without any definite statutory control. For instance, the first documented newspaper IweIroyin (1859) was published without a laid down law by the state regulating the activities of publishers. Although this unregulated situation did not remain unchecked as the government grew increasingly unsettled by media content. It experienced occasional interruption by the then colonial government. This unrest increased with the emergence of nationalist papers and the need for media independence became inevitable.

Since the attainment of independence in 1960, the mass media have been attributed to extra- legal control measures imposed on them to restrict their social responsibilities. It was more felt during the military regime. Since 1999, the role the media played in ushering in democracy cannot be over-emphasized as they helped to inform, educate and serve as watchdog over the society. In spite of this, it is obvious that the disposition of the society towards the media have not been favourable. Hence, there is need for this research, to find out the extent and influence of Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria.

Media Censorship and Its Impacts on Governance and Democracy in Nigeria

1.2 Statement of the Problem

In many countries of the world, particularly the developing countries, the media have freedom to publish or broadcast whatever is in the best interest of the society. In developing countries like Nigeria, despite the fact that it has several laws, especially Section 39 Sub-Section (1) of 1999 constitution, which gave right to the media and stipulates that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, Including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and Impact ideas and information without interference.”

Inspite of what the constitution has stipulated, government and other influential individuals still infringe on those rights and hinder the delivery of news objectivity. This study seeks to examine media censorship and its impacts on governance and democracy in Nigeria.

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Peter Hezekiah Lawson (Sir Pee). The CEO of A reputable researcher, Web Developer, ICT Instructor and a publisher of many research works in Education.