–– Stephen Charles
The popular cliché of the media being the fourth estate of the realm is today, not such an uncommon one in any society where a democratically elected government is orthodox. It is one which bestows a considerable magnitude of importance and recognition on the mass media as being a highly dignified and politically neutral body, a watchdog that looks out for the excesses and lapses of the government with regards to the discharge of its constitutional obligations.
As the fourth estate of the realm, the media is one which is considered to be the fourth platform of authority in succession with the legislative, executive, and judicial arms and ensures that the latter discharge their constitutional duties in a manner fully representative of the interests of the people.
In the face of this highly-placed obligation, the Nigerian media is no exception. It is in fact charged with the constitutional responsibility and given the liberty with regards to informing, educating and enlightening Nigerians on the policies, deeds and misdeeds of the government and by this means, ensure that the virtues of good governance and true federalism are upheld.
In fact, the section 22 of the Nigerian constitution fully acknowledges this highly valued and indispensable obligation, stating that “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people”.
By virtue of this constitutional provision, the Nigerian media is given the freedom and charged with the civic duty of upholding the “the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy” contained in chapter two of the Nigerian constitution as well as making sure, through its daily functions that the government performs its duties and is fully accountable to the people. It is meant to keep an eye out for situations or areas in which the government seems to be functioning outside the code of conduct set by the constitution and points the attention of both the government and the governed in the direction of such with the ultimate goal of having them corrected and ensuring that the more orthodox and constitution-abiding path of governance is threaded.
In the light of these, one is then forced to ask: Is the Nigerian media performing these highly place duties and of course without prejudice, unscrupulousness, and subjectivity? Is the government truly and fully held accountable to the people in tandem with the demands of the constitution? Has the media fully been allowed and given the mandate, liberty, and protection needed to carry out its obligations without any hindrance whatsoever?
Considering the magnitude of contempt, harassment, and mortal danger frequently dealt on media workers; considering the seeming covert nature of the of the so-called accountability of governmental persons with regards to certain key and sensitive issues in governance; considering the depth of corruption into which a handful of Nigerian media houses are terribly rooted, being active partisans simultaneously in both politics and media business; considering the manner in which the same constitution which empowers the media has simultaneously come to limit same and provides them with no protection in the face of their daunting responsibilities, one cannot but leave out a moment of considerable trepidation and doubt when asked to provide answers to these questions.
However, and a few issues must be rectified if the media is to function objectivity and execute its constitutional obligations without fear or favour.
First, ethical and objective practices which are the true virtues of the profession must be frequently upheld in the media and offenders in that regards should be promptly sanctioned in accordance with predetermine penalties.
Public officers should equally be made to understand the powers and duties of the media and that they are accountable to the people through them. True press freedom and independence should also at all times be upheld and politicians should be refrained from owning media houses if possible.
In a nutshell, the Nigerian media should be given a certain degree of constitutionally recognized immunity to certain laws that are more of a hindrance to the effective execution of its functions if it is to be expected to function to the best of its capacity without fear or subjectivity. The freedom of information should also at all times be guaranteed. If all these are ensured, then the answers to the afore-raised questions should definitely turn out to be positive ones.