This study assessed the influence of freedom of information act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State, Nigeria. The study employed the survey design. The population was made up of Journalists in Lagos State who are registered with the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Lagos Stat. The researcher employed purposive sampling technique which was used to select 120 journalists. Questionnaire was used as the instrument for data collection. Data gathered were analyzed with SPSS version 23 and results were presented descriptively. Findings revealed that journalists in Lagos State understand the provisions and procedures of obtaining information through the FOIA; journalists in Lagos State use the FOIA in furtherance of their watchdog roles and that there is influence of the FOIA in enhancing the effectiveness of the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State. The study recommends that government should enact a law that will mandate the full practice of FoIA by journalist in the State. This in turn will assist in furthering the watchdog role of journalist in the State.
1.1 Background to the study
Journalism contributes immensely to the growth of modern society. Journalism through media ensures the free and smooth flow of information at a different level, thereby keeping the masses informed about social and economic transformation or changes in the society. However, to perform its developmental role, journalism requires free access to information (Abone & Kur, 2014; Oberiri, 2016).
Oberiri (2017) defined Freedom of information as a part of human rights that gives legal backing to the citizens to have access to information that is in the care of the government and public establishments. According to Allen, Ogochukwu, and Peter (2019), citizens can have comfortable and unbound access to information permitted by legislation that is embedded in the constitution of the nation. Right on access to data and information obliges the disclosure of records on activities by the government about its events and institutions. This is because the effective functioning of democracy hovers around full information disclosure to the citizens (Omotayo, 2015).
The law that obliges the government to disclose information fully has a legal backing of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which empowers the citizens' freedom and right to access data held by the government and its agencies (Adeniji, 2017). The freedom of information legislation has its basis in the fundamental human rights of all people to have access to an opinion and also the power of expression by the citizens (Onwubere, 2013). Article 19 of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that "every individual will be allowed liberty of articulation, including the right to have access to retrieve public data and to accept and communicate ideas, points and information without any form of obstruction." Based on this philosophy, the Act that backs Freedom of information enables the advancement of the right of the public to know and communicate by guaranteeing individuals access to public information (Allen et al., 2019).
Historically, the Freedom of information law was first promulgated in Sweden in 1766. This Act has been adopted by many countries, with over 13 states in Sweden adopting the law in 1990 and over 70 countries in 2008. In December 2015, over 130 countries had the law either as a constitutional provision or as extant domestic law (Ajibade, 2017). Other countries that have implemented one form of this law or another include Albania, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France and Germany (Onwubere, 2013).
In Nigeria, journalists have been commended for their significant role during the fight for independence through their watchdog function. Also, they are praised for their tenacity and intensity, which helps in achieving democracy in Nigeria (Gainaka, Alsagoff& Ghazali, 2020). Nonetheless, most of the watchdog accomplishments achieved were mainly accredited to the print media. For instance, print media played an important role that exposed a previous house of representative leader for age declaration fraud, which resulted in his resignation in 1999 (Apata&Ogunwuyi, 2019). Besides, it was the print media through newspapers that uncovered the plan of Olusegun Obasanjo, who aimed at amending the constitution to favor his third term bid in office by manipulating the national assembly.
According to Gainaka et al. (2020), journalists have been playing a leading role in exposing financial misuse, dishonesty in government institutions, and among leaders vested with the responsibilities of maintaining public resources. According to Ajibade (2016), "Freedom of Information Act is embedded in freedom of the press in Nigeria with the original draft being produced by Tunde Fagbohunlu (SAN) in 1994". However, the drafted law passed through numerous assessments until it was eventually placed into law on May 28th, 2011, by President Goodluck Jonathan. This law was aimed at ensuring that journalists have free access to information and perform their functions of serving the masses with information about public and government operations without fear of intimidation and unfair prosecution. Thus, this study seeks to assess the influence of freedom of information act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State of Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Following the promulgation of Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria, journalists tend to play a vital role in overseeing the nation through the provision of records of economic activities and situations. However, there are still considerable concerns regarding the level of attentiveness and effectiveness of FOIA in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists.
Malayo (2012) asserted that the journalists failed to make the most use of the FOIA in developing countries like Nigeria because of lack of knowledge and underdeveloped nature of the political statement of the country. It seems the majority of journalists do not have adequate knowledge of the FOIA, which in turn is restricting their urge for information from the government, as well as other public institutions. Osa-Oghogo (2015) stated that press and journalists in Nigeria are not extremely informed of the Freedom of information act, which could serve as a tool of promoting their watchdog role in the society and checkmating the activities of the government.
Ojomo (2011) opined that journalists and broadcast media are not able to carry out watchdog function adequately due to monitoring by the government. Journalists and other media outlets continue to underperform in their watchdog function, which has led the public to rely on social media as a substitute in filling the gap created by the underperformance (Amodu, Usaini& Ige, 2014; Gainaka et al., 2020). While studies have been done regarding the issues of Freedom of information act in Nigeria, most of the studies focused on the level of awareness of the Act to the journalists and the preparedness of journalists to embrace the Act (Malayo, 2012; Abone& Kur, 2014; Oberiri, 2016; Adeniji, 2017; Gainaka et al., 2020). These studies did not evaluate the influence of this Act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists, which is the significant gap that this study seeks to fill.
1.3 Research Objectives
The principal aim of this study is to assess the impact of freedom information act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State of Nigeria. Primarily, the study aims to:
i. Ascertain the extent to which journalists in Lagos State understand the provisions and procedures of obtaining information through the FOIA.
ii. Determine the extent to which journalists in Lagos State use the FOIA in furtherance of their watchdog roles.
iii. Examine the influence of the FOIA in enhancing the effectiveness of the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State.
1.4 Research Questions
The ensuing questions were suggested in line with the research objectives.
- i. To what extent do journalists in Lagos State understand the provisions and procedures of obtaining information through the FOIA?
- To what extent do journalists in Lagos State use the FOIA in furtherance of their watchdog role?
- What is Examine the influence of the FOIA in enhancing the effectiveness of the watchdog role of journalists in Lagos State?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The significance of this research is multidimensional. This research will seek to bring clarity to the effectiveness of FOIA in influencing the watchdog role of journalists. The study will help create awareness on the law regarding FOIA and how it can be explored for societal benefits. The study will enlighten journalists, editors, specialized groups, society, and government on the potency of FOIA as a tool for enhancing journalism practices.
The study will enable journalists have adequate knowledge of the FOIA and the adoption of the act in strengthening their watchdog role. Findings from the study would enable the government to provide adequate mechanism for the successful implementation of the provisions stated in the FIOA. More so, this will add to the research works on Freedom of information in Nigeria libraries.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study seeks to investigate the impact of freedom of information act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists. The scope of this study is restricted to journalists in Lagos State to the exclusion of journalists in other parts of the country. Lagos State is selected given the level of development of the state and the establishment media house which is prevalent in the state. The study employs quantitative research method to collect data from the respondents. Data are through primary method of data collection through questionnaire. Also, some textbooks and journals which provided a lot of information relating to the study are consulted.
1.7 Limitation of the Study
Though this study investigates the impact of freedom of information act in enhancing the watchdog role of journalists, it is restricted to journalists in Lagos State. However, the challenges encountered in this study are mainly in the course gathering data. The process of collecting data through questionnaire is from the respondents is a bit cumbersome due to the current pandemic being experienced in the country. Also, some respondents are unable to divulge some information due to the tenet of the profession. Also, other challenges encountered are time and financial resources. However, the study managed these problems and prevented a negative impact of these gaps on the work.
1.8 Definition of Operational Terms
- Journalism: This is the occupation of gathering and writing reports for print media, radio, television, and the internet.
- Journalist: This is an individual who accumulates, communicates, or disseminates news or other current information to the masses.
- Watchdog: This a person that monitors or checkmate the activities of an organization or government.
- Freedom of Information: This is the Freedom of access to information without limitation.
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): This is an act or order that is ratified to give citizens access to information relating to government.
- Act: This is a law put forward by lawmakers and assented presidentially.
- Constitution: a body of fundamental law and principles established to govern a state.