An Assessment Of Workability Of Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) In Journalism Profession In Nigeria
This work set out to study the workability of freedom of information Act (FOIA) in Journalism profession in Nigeria. In 2011, the bill FOIA was assented to by the president of the federal republic of Nigeria president Goodluck Jonathan after eleven years of foot dragging in the N/ Assembly, and the hope of every Nigeria was that the Act would a respite to the rigorous Suffering the Journalists have been subjected to in the course of digging out facts and figures containing in both Government and private institutions to which such contents, they have be been denied access to on demand. A survey technique was used to obtain date from three hundred respondent respondents were chosen purposively to found out that the good intention of the FOIA has been dished or jettisoned due to the provisions of official secret Act in Nigeria which barrnigadle the access to Government documents by Journalist. The study recommend that the stakeholders being the legal luminaries, law makes in the states and national Assemblies and Journalists too should revisit the contents of the two acts of Nigeria parchment and assiduously response any parts that could man or muzzle Journalists from reporting the truth which is the only denfence for any society such as ours.
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 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) 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
Due to the resources and funds available for this study which were highly limited, it shall be restricted to only National union of journalists in port Harcourt metropolis, River state owing to the sensibility of officers who are in the position to give some information but are unwilling to do so.
1.9 Definition of Terms
A law made by the National Assembly and has been given presidential assent.
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.
The work of collecting and writing news stories for newspapers, magazine, radio, television and the internet.
Relating to the examination or judgment of the value of the importance of something.
Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations
Having exhausted the analysis of the data collected from respondents via the questionnaire, the findings are summarized thus:
That there is a growing awareness of journalists on the FOIA. This is not coming as a surprise as journalists a long side other civil society organization were at the forefront for the passage into law of the Freedom of Information.
This awareness, it is discovered, is necessary for the maximization of the latent prospects of the FOIA in Nigeria.
Again that the FOIA will indeed create access to government-held information remains cheering news. This is against the backdrop of the fact that the law provides a platform for participation and interaction between the government and the governed – these are veritable indices of a true democracy.
However, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as it is at the moment has been seen as one of the greatest banes to the workability of the FOIA in Nigeria. To this end, the advocacy for the repelling of some of these anti-press laws in our statutes if the FOIA must work is a call that cannot be easily waved off.
Also, sheering is the fact that the FOIA has been seen as one of the ingredients for the sustenance and strengthening of our nation‟s democracy. This is owing largely to the fact that the Act has been seen as engendering responsibility, transparency and accountability in government.
Interestingly, the FOIA has been seen as an indispensable agent catalyst to effective journalism practice. This is true in that, it provides the necessary platform for objective, factual, fair and balanced reporting.
Finally, the FOIA ushers in an era of freedom with responsibility in which the journalists is saddled with the task to reporting in such manners that would only be fair and factual yet engendering national development.
This research is an evaluative study of the FOIA and media practice in Nigeria.
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.
However, the anti-press law that adorn our law books, unfortunately have the capacity to frustrate the FOIA in Nigeria.
Moreso, the FOIA is a catalyst for freedom with responsibility. This is so because the media now are made to assume the full states of the change agents they have often been denied. The FOIA places on the shoulders of the journalists a rather “heavy burden” – the task to report in manners that are not only responsible but also engender development. It is in journalist‟s adherence to journalism tenets that they would avoid the pitfall of irresponsible journalism practice – to whom much is given much is required. It is in this light that journalists must know that freedom must be matched with responsibility.
In view of the findings made in the study, the following recommendations are hereby submitted:
- 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.
- That the workability of the law in Nigeria, remains a concern. Allaying this concern will be highly predicated on how well strict compliance is made to the relevant provisions of the law.
- That some of the anti-press laws that adorn or law book should either be expunged or repelled. It is in that, that the FOIA can be beneficial to the Nigerian nation and its citizens alike.
- That provisions of the law must not only be known by all citizens but also efforts must be made to discourage or punish public office holders who attempt to frustrate the public‟s effort to get information.
That it now behooves the journalist to hold tenacious to the ethics of the profession and as report in manners that will advance the cause of development of the people.
Similarly, it was affirmed that the FOIA can engender effective journalism practice among journalists in Nigeria. With the focus of the study on evaluating the FOIA and media practice, one cannot easily ignore the potency of the Act to orchestrate effective journalism practice.
On the Act engendering freedom with or without responsibility, the study did reveal the growing cautiousness of journalists to operate within the ambits of the ethics of the profession. To this end, the FOIA place on the journalists an obligation to be factual as they are objective, with the overriding consideration of protecting public interest.
Therefore, this finding confirms the theoretical framework; development (media) theory used and as such corroborates the position of Ukonu (2006:156) when he averred that “freedom must be matched with responsibility if it must not degenerate to licentiousness.”
Empirically, it was also discovered that according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), good governance which the FOIA promises to entrench, is among other things participatory, transparent and accountable, effective and equitable as it promotes the rule of law.
Similarly, it was found out that irrespective of the latent potency of the FOIA to advance the cause of development in Africa, the World Library and Information Congress held in August 2003 in Berlin, reviewed the State of Freedom of Information in Africa, and concluded that Africa has not fared well in the area of Freedom of Information Legislation.
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