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AN APPRAISAL OF FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT IN NIGERIA

ABSTRACT

The goal of this project was to conduct an evaluation of Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act and media practices. The method of survey research was used. The researcher distributed 220 questionnaires to journalists, broadcasters, advertisers, editors, and lecturers in the Port Harcourt metropolitan at random. Interviews were also performed to aid in the formulation of the study. The data was analyzed using simple percentages and tables. While the study’s theoretical base was development media theory, the findings revealed that the FOIA has the potential to foster successful media practice because it can only work properly if some anti-press laws are repealed or altered.

FOIA is a catalyst for freedom with accountability and good governance, justice, accuracy, balance, and objectivity, according to the report. It was urged that journalists go beyond simply being aware of the FOIA’s passing into law to becoming familiar with its pertinent aspects in order to utilize the Act’s prospects for good media practice in Nigeria.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

Background of Study

Over the years, the movement for the establishment of a free press society has been at the forefront of national debate, particularly among Nigerian journalists. This is largely because the importance of having legislation that ensures a high level of journalistic freedom cannot be overstated. It appears that it cannot be overlooked, especially given the good impact it could have on any community.

Many media scholars have stressed the need for a Nigeria Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Prior to its enactment, for example, Ogbondah (2003:128) noted:

“The National Assembly should implement or guarantee the right of access to government-held information, including computerized data, to the journalists and members of the public.”

Similarly, the Media Right Agenda (2004:4) stated that if the FOIA Bill is voted into law as an Act of Parliament, it will make public records and information held by any government—federal, state, or local—available to all Nigerians. As a result, the Bill’s right of access to official information will be legally enforceable; under the Freedom of Information Act, it will be possible to get details of any transaction undertaken in those offices from Governors, Council Chairmen, Ministers, the President, or other public officers. The law is also expected to provide protection to public officers who find a fraudulent act and report it, so reducing corruption among public officials. Moreso,

“A democracy functions best when citizens have access to all information that national security enables; no one should be able to hide judgments that can be published without harming the public interest.”

Anti-press regulations, which abound in the Nigerian constitution, have previously made the process of news sourcing, gathering, and dissemination appear impossible for journalists. The Nigeria Guild of Editors (2001:96) aptly captured this when it stated:

 

“We recognize the press’s responsibilities, but we can’t do our job well unless the shackles imposed by repressive legislation are removed from our statute books… The achievement of this goal is based on the press’s ability to operate freely.

Unfortunately, without enough freedom to seek, gather, and disseminate information, the media, as the fourth estate of the realm and the watchdog of the leaders and the led, cannot successfully carry out this fundamental responsibility. Yalaju (2001:205) stated, drawing on the functional component of the Freedom of Information Act:

“The right to information aims to strengthen the media by ensuring and defending freedom of expression, notably in the press.”

 

The recently passed FOIA intends to make information more accessible to journalists in the same manner that it is to anybody else who requests information. It is also predicted that once the law is in place, the media will have more freedom.

The fact that the Nigeria Freedom of Information Act was proposed in the backdrop of international affirmation of citizens’ rights to access information held by public authorities as a fundamental human right is self-evident. It is also useful to notice that the Freedom of Information Act is one of the criteria for determining if a country is truly democratic. It goes without saying that democracy is at its finest when citizens have access to all information permitted by the nation’s constitution.

On the other hand, most foreign leaders’ adamant opposition to having the FOIA established in their countries’ legal systems has continued to raise concerns. It’s no surprise, according to Amadi (2003:5):

“The subject of enacting a strong Freedom of Information Act remains a pawn in politicians’ political chessboard… The fact that such venal politicians realize that the enactment of such powerful pro-media, pro-people legislation will provide an effective check on their venality may explain their decision to sit on such legislation. It will serve as a strong deterrent to their avarice. It will act as a check because the implementation of such legislation will remove the mystifying cloak of secrecy that gives governance in such countries a larger-than-life appearance. And it is for this reason that politicians will continue to oppose it.”

Nigerians have been waiting over a decade for the Freedom of Information Act to be passed.

Furthermore, if the media is expected to carry out their responsibilities in the spirit of fairness, accuracy, balance, and objectivity, there should be no alternative to getting information from primary sources (government and its agencies). If there is, the media will be tempted to engage in “speculative reporting” or, worse, rely on secondary sources, which may be misleading and biased.

In light of these circumstances, the purpose of this study is to assess the Freedom of Information Act and how well it has influenced 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.

Statement of Problem

Many supporters of the bill have hailed Nigeria’s recent passage of the Freedom of Information Act as a move in the right direction. Practitioners of the media feel that the Freedom of Information Act, as a communication phenomena, will be critical in putting Nigeria on the path to progress. It will also enhance public participation in government programs and policies, resulting in the establishment of accountability and good governance. All of this being said, the issue is the amount of preparedness among the FOIA’s main proponents, namely journalists, in terms of leveraging the Act’s provisions for effective journalism practice.

While the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) promises a lot, its applicability in a country like Nigeria, where there is a proclivity for breaking laws with impurity, tends to stifle its potential for successful media practice.

The ability to fully exploit the FOIA’s potential in Nigeria is contingent on media practitioners’ familiarity with its provisions. Many journalists appear to be unaware of the FOIA’s requirements, which limits their ability to get information held by the government and other public institutions.

Whether the FOIA ushers in a new era of freedom with or without responsibility, media practice remains a major source of concern. Similarly, it is a concern that because media practitioners are unfamiliar with the Act’s provisions, it is difficult to make the most of it. More importantly, the idea that the FOIA represents a new era of freedom without accountability, as well as a threat to national security, continues to be a source of concern.

Objectives of Study

Among other things, the study aims to:

  1. Examine the level of FOIA awareness among Nigerian journalists.
  2. Determine how the Freedom of Information Act can help the media practice fair, balanced, accurate, and objective reporting.
  3. Determine the apparent obstacles to the full implementation of the FOIA in Nigeria.
  4. Determine if the FOIA will provide journalists in Nigeria with “unfettered” access to government-held material.
  5. Find out if the act will improve journalism, particularly in terms of deciding what to report and what not to report.

 Research Questions

1. How well-informed are Nigerian journalists about the Freedom of Information Act?

2. To what extent may the Freedom of Information Act assist journalists in reporting that is fair, balanced, accurate, and objective?

3. What appear to be the roadblocks to the efficient use of the FOIA in Nigeria?

4. Will the FOIA provide journalists in Nigeria with “unrestricted” access to government-held information?

5. Will the act improve journalism, particularly in terms of determining what to report and what not to report?

Hypotheses of the study

Ho: The Freedom of Information Act has had little impact on media practice in terms of fair, balanced, accurate, and impartial reporting.

H1: The Freedom of Information Act has had a substantial impact on media practice in favor of fair, balanced, accurate, and impartial reporting.

Significance of the Study

This study is significant in multiple ways, thus it will seek to identify the point of confluence between the FOIA and good media practice. Aside from its tremendous potential to add to the body of information, the study also provides a varied look into FOIA rules, thereby raising awareness of the law and its implications.

Furthermore, the study can be used to supplement or replace current material on freedom of information in Nigerian libraries. It will also be useful to aspiring researchers who are interested in pursuing a career in this field.

Journalists, editors, specialized groups, society, government, and so on are all involved.

The study will benefit them greatly. It gives journalists plenty of opportunities to advocate for national progress and the establishment of government transparency. The government could use the findings of this study to tap into the law’s latent power to provide quality service to its inhabitants.

Similarly, the study is essential in that it provides a forum for government press engagement, which, if properly utilized, can aid national growth.

Scope/Delimitation of the study

This evaluative study on the appraisal of the Freedom of Information Act will try to appraise the FOIA and how it influences media practice in Nigeria. It will be limited to the River State Branch of the National Union of Journalists.

Limitation of the study

The Freedom of Information Act is the subject of this research. Its scope is confined to determining how the Act has influenced media coverage. It also excludes the views of journalists, editors, sponsors, and broadcasters. This means that members of the public with interests other than mass communication were overlooked.

Furthermore, because the participants were limited to River state, the thoughts and facts provided in this study may not be applicable to other federation states.

Definition of Terms

Act: A statute passed by the National Assembly and signed by the President.

A constitution is a set of rules and principles that govern a country (such as Nigeria) or an organization.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal statute that aims to give citizens access to information kept by the government.

Journalism is the process of gathering and writing news stories for publications such as newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and the internet.

Evaluative: Concerning the examination or assessment of something’s worth or significance.

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