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APPLYING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT FOR ECONOMIC RECOVERY AND SUSTAINABILITY: ACTIVISM AND CHALLENGES BY JOURNALISTS IN PORT HARCOURT METROPOLIS
The study is focused on Applying the Freedom of Information Act for Economic Recovery and Sustainability: Activism and Challenges by Journalists in Port Harcourt Metropolis. Survey method is the research design adopted for this study. The area of study is Port Harcourt metropolis. The populations of this study are journalist in Port Harcourt Metroplolis registered under NUJ which are about 293. The sample size of the population is 75. The researchers used purposive sampling technique in selecting 75 respondents (Journalists). The instruments used in this study were questionnaire and observation. Data were presented in tables and analyzed using descriptive statistics, employing frequency counts and simple percentages.In view of the analysis made from responses of respondents, it is therefore submitted that the Freedom of Information Act has the potency to enhance the journalism practice in Nigeria, national development, guarantee national security, transparency and good governance and press freedom. The study went further to recommend that journalists should go beyond just being aware of the passage into law of the FoIA, but to be well acquainted with relevant provisions of the Act. It is when they do that, that they can make the most of the Act.
1.1 Background to the Study
Journalism is one social institution that requires freedom to effectively function in society. It plays a crucial role to society, serving as the watchdog of the society, and providing constant stream of information, education and socialization. Soeze (2005, p.19) elucidates that the media as the watchdog of the society have the responsibility of keeping the public informed, educated and socialized. This involves making people know the day-to-day activities and dealings of those in government whether military or civilian. In addition, the media also help to ensure that the government knows the feelings and yearnings of those it governs. However, for the media to perform these functions effectively and efficiently there must be press freedom.
Journalism also sets agenda, organizes public debates and discussions, and interprets issues to put them in proper perspectives to make meaning to people. Through these roles, journalism not only educate, inform and socialize; it also confers status, values and significance to issues, thereby serving as the mouth-piece and defender of the voiceless and the oppressed in society (Sambe, 2008).
Since the emergence of modern journalism in Nigeria in 1859 according to (Aliede, 2003), it has been struggling to achieve the needed freedom that would enable it discharge its social responsibilities creditably. The journalistic task of gathering and disseminating news has not been an easy one largely due to limited freedom occasioned largely by government firm grip and control of the mass media. Thus, Uche (1989) notes that “relationship between the mass media and the government in Nigeria has been a cat and mouse affair”. This implies that, the free flow of information has been trampled upon. Journalists have had no access to vital information let alone the masses. In struggling to get detailed, factual and balanced reportage, journalists have had to continue to nose around for information, exposing themselves to high levels of risk that got them victimized, jailed, tortured and sometimes killed (Ezeah, 2004). In contribution, Malayo, (2012) asserts that: “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 owes 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”
Even before the passage and subsequent signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law, there were strong views that the Act was going to facilitate journalism practice in Nigeria. Even though the Act is not a journalism law, journalists were at the fore-front in agitation for its passage; Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) were among the three civil society organizations that began the campaign of a law of this nature (FOI Coalition, 2003). The bill was presented to the National Assembly two times by journalists: Tony Anyanwu and Nduka Irabor for the first time and Abike Dabiri for the second time (Ojebode, 2011).
Against this backdrop, 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, is believed will 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), stated that: “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) averts 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 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. The question now is that, are journalists aware of the provisions of the law with their strengths and weaknesses? Are journalists optimistic or pessimistic that the Act would facilitate journalism practice? These questions constitute the problems this study investigates.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The FOIA 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, good governance and economic recovery. The issue now 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 direction towards effective media practice. Therefore, maximizing the potentials of the FoIA in Nigeria depends on how well the media practitioners are acquainted with its provisions. Malayo (2012) argues 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.
1.3 Aim and Objectives of study
The aim of this study is on “Applying The Freedom Of Information Act For Economic Recovery And Sustainability: Activism And Challenges By Journalists In Port Harcourt Metropolis”.
The specific objectives of the study is anchored on:
- Examining the level of awareness among journalist in Port Harcourt on the Freedom Of Information Act (FoIA).
- Determining the extent to which the FoIA can aid media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and objective reporting;
- Ascertaining the seeming challenges to the maximization of the FoIA in Nigeria.
1.4 Research questions
The study is anchored on the following questions:
1) What is the level of awareness among journalists in Port Harcourt on the Freedom Of Information Act (FoIA).?
2) To what extent can the FoIA aid media practice towards a fair, balanced, accurate and objectivereporting?
3) What are the seeming challenges to the effective maximization of the FoIA in Nigeria?
1.5Significance of the study
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 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 as it provide a platform for government press collaboration which if harnessed, can facilitate national development.
1.6Scope of the study
Although the awareness and utilization of FoIA among Journalists is an issue that cut across media practice in Nigeria. The study is limited to Journalists in Port Harcourt, Nigeria registered under NUJ
1.7Definition of operational terms
(i)Act: in this study, act means a law made by the National Assembly and has been given presidentialassent.
(ii) Constitution: Base on the study. Constitution implies a body of laws and principles by which anation (like Nigeria) or other organization is governed.
(iii) Freedom of Information Act (FoIA): A law that seeks to guarantee citizens access togovernment-held information.
(iv)Journalism: this study sees journalism as the work of collecting and writing news stories for newspapers, magazine, radio, television and the internet.