This paper aims to evaluate freedom of information act and the practice of journalism in delta state
It has never been simple for journalists to collect and disseminate news, to a large extent due to the restricted freedom brought about by the government's strong grip and dominance of the mass media. Uche (1989) observed that there has been a cat-and-mouse game going on between the government and the press in Nigeria. This suggests that there have been violations of the free flow of information. The general public and journalists both lacked access to crucial information. Journalists have struggled to obtain thorough, accurate, and fair reporting, so they have had to continue snooping around for information and taking significant risks that have resulted in them being persecuted, imprisoned, subjected to torture, and occasionally killed.
The study was delimited to the following scope of the study. The study is to be carried out among registered journalists who are employed by Delta State's print, broadcast, and government information organizations.
Therefore, the respondents covered registered journalists who are employed by Delta State's print, broadcast, and government information organizations.
In this study, data were collected from registered journalists who are employed by Delta State's print, broadcast, and government information organizations by using questionnaires each respondent answered question according to his/her understanding towards the problem.
As a result of the inability of the researcher to effectively study the whole population strength, a representative number was chosen as the sample size population, 100 respondents was used as the sample size. Data was collected from primary and secondary sources. Primary data was obtained through questionnaire and personal interviews with the respondents. Tables and simple percentage was used as technique of analyzing the research questions.
Findings from the study revealed that that all journalists used for the study are aware of the Freedom of Information Act. A larger percentage strongly agreed that there is a statistically significant difference in the impact of the Freedom of Information Act on the practice of journalism in Delta State.
The major respondents accepted that freedom of Information Act strengthen the constitutional guarantee of freedom to receive, impart information and ideas and also empower professionalism and ethics of journalism, freedom of information is an essential right for every person, freedom of information guards against abuses, mismanagement and corruption.
The study revealed that the Freedom of Information Act gives a person, group, association or organisation the right to access information from Government Agencies, Parastatals, Federal Civil Service, Private and Public sector organisations providing public services, that FoIA is just law in the constitution but not in full practice in Nigeria.
The study recommends that Journalist should hold tenacious to the ethics of the profession and as report in manners that will advance the cause of development of the people.
1.1 Background of the Study
Journalism is the foundation of democracy. A functional democracy requires a community that is informed. Journalism promotes the growth of informed citizens, which is crucial for the operation of any democratic society. In a world where information is becoming more and more accessible, it is more crucial than ever to be able to cut through the clutter and identify trustworthy sources of information (Jenkins, 2022). As a result, journalism is without a doubt the most significant profession in a democracy.
Additionally, journalism performs the crucial role of a watchdog in society; one of journalism's fundamental roles is to expose the murky activities of the corrupt and evil and hold them accountable (Riaz, 2022). Media outlets have the ability to reveal government corruption, waste, inefficiency, and negligence, as well as acts of omission and commission. Investigative journalism allows for the exposure of anti-social behavior, the uncovering of seams and scandals, and the monitoring and pursuit of program implementation.
Almost every day, the media serves as an ombudsman on behalf of the people and works to keep those in positions of power within the bounds of the law and on the right path. Therefore, the media can be used to ensure that all authorities, people, and institutions performing public duties are accountable to the public for their daily actions and omissions. The core characteristic of democracy that sets it apart from other political systems is the accountability of those in positions of authority. To this extent, the media serves as a tool to ensure the ongoing accountability of the authorities they support in order to make democracy real and functional (Onabajo, 2004).
Journalism can further aid in bringing about social change and raising awareness of significant matters by augmenting the voices of the voiceless. This has happened a lot in history, such like Ida B. Wells's coverage of murder in the American South or, more recently, The Guardian's report on Nia Wilson's passing in Oakland, California. In both instances, journalism helped bring important issues to light and gave a voice to those who might not have had one. Because of this, journalism has the ability to give the voiceless a platform and bring about change in society (Jenkins, 2022).
In addition to setting agendas and coordinating public debates and talks, journalism also interprets problems and places them in the appropriate contexts so that people can understand them. Through these functions, journalism serves as the voice and defender of the oppressed and voiceless in society, in addition to educating, informing, and fostering social interaction (Sambe, 2008).
However, journalism is one entity-of-society that needs freedom to work effectively (Apuke, 2017). Only a free press can provide the public with information about the accomplishments and shortcomings of their leaders, communicate the needs and preferences of the populace to the executive branch, and serve as a forum for the free exchange of ideas. When media freedom is curtailed, these crucial processes malfunction, resulting in bad judgment and negative outcomes for both leaders and citizens (Freedom House, 2023). According to Aliede (2003), modern journalism first appeared in Nigeria in 1859, but has since struggled to obtain the necessary freedom to carry out its social responsibilities honorably. Undoubtedly, this is a regular occurrence for journalists in Delta State.
It has never been simple for journalists to collect and disseminate news, to a large extent due to the restricted freedom brought about by the government's strong grip and dominance of the mass media. Uche (1989) observed that there has been a cat-and-mouse game going on between the government and the press in Nigeria. This suggests that there have been violations of the free flow of information. The general public and journalists both lacked access to crucial information. Journalists have struggled to obtain thorough, accurate, and fair reporting, so they have had to continue snooping around for information and taking significant risks that have resulted in them being persecuted, imprisoned, subjected to torture, and occasionally killed (Ezeah, 2004).
For instance, two Guardian newspaper journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were imprisoned in 1984 under the military rule of General Muhammadu Buhari for a story they covered about diplomatic postings that the government deemed offensive and swiftly promulgated Decree No. 4 (Accusation Against Public Officers), under which the journalists were tried and given a one-year prison term (Eme, 2008). The original Editor-in-Chief of News Watch magazine, Dele Giwa, was killed on October 19, 1986, by a parcel bomb while General Ibrahim Babangida was in charge of the military government. The government promptly outlawed Newswatch in 1987 following the murder, and this was followed by numerous other journalist arrests, threats, harrassments, and detentions as well as the widespread outlawing of media outlets (Anim, 1989).
Additionally, under the military regime of General Sani Abacha, journalism faced difficulties. The severity of abuses against journalists increased under this administration. Journalists like Kunle Ajibade of The News magazine, George Mbah of Tell magazine, and Chris Anyanwu, publisher of the now-defunct Sunday magazine Weekend Classique, have all faced treason-related criminal accusations. These journalists were unfairly tried and given a range of prison sentences (Ogbondah, 2005). Other anti-journalism actions taken by Abacha's administration included the seizure of newspapers and magazines, the interruption of printing and distribution, the release of fake editions of some magazines, the withholding of official advertisements, and the issuance of anti-press decrees (Ezeah, 2004).
On May 29, 1999, the military turned over power to a civilian government, and there were high hopes that journalists would be able to work effectively because of the relative freedom they would have. But it didn't work out that way. During Olusegun Obasanjo's civilian democratic administration, cases of attacks on journalists were also documented (Abone and Kur, 2014).
Due to the aforementioned situation that existed against the practice of journalism, coalition groups in Nigeria, civil societies, and journalists worked thoroughly to attain press freedom. According to Uche (1989), this freedom would promote journalism in a variety of ways, including giving the press the freedom to express ideas, opinions, and information; granting the right to criticize the political, economic, and social institutions of the nation; and giving the right to help inform every Nigerian by giving him or her access to the day's intelligence in a free marketplace of ideas without any overt or covert systematic means of applying censorship, pressure, or any other form of restraint. With the passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2011, these efforts came to fruition (Abone and Kur, 2014).
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a national statute that increases the accessibility to public records and information, permits public access to those records and information, provides protection for the records and information to the point compatible with the interest of the public and the safeguarding of individual privacy, shields serving public officials from negative repercussions for improperly divulging specific types of official information, and sets standards for accomplishing these objectives (Freedom of Information Act, 2011).
The Act empowers journalists and civic society to delve deeply into problems and root out corruption, malfeasance, embezzlement, bribery, and other forms of misconduct in the public administration process (Obayi et al., 2021). According to Akor and Oko (2015), the FOIA suggests a shift from a need-to-know basis to a right-to-know basis for the dissemination of government information. It suggests a shift from passive to active participation in administration.
The FOI Act aims to change the way that documents and information are handled. The Act strengthens the assumption of transparency by placing the responsibility of proof on those who want to hide public information from the general public. Since people are rational beings, the press must be liberal in order to provide them with information and allow them to assess it (Obayi et al., 2021).
Despite the fact that the FOI Act has been enacted into law, it has not yet been fully implemented in Nigeria. Furthermore, it has been difficult for journalists to inform the public about high-profile cases using this law (Omotayo, 2015). What could possibly be the cause of this? It is that they are unaware of some of the provisions of the act? Or perhaps, they have the wrong notion about the Act or could it be that political will is lacking among those in power who ought to be in charge of enacting such laws? Hence this research seeks to evaluate the freedom of information act and practice of journalism in Delta state.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The quest for a freedom of information law in Nigeria began in 1993, under General Sani Abacha's administration, which was infamous for severely repressing the press and journalists. According to Ogbuokiri (2011), the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Lagos State Chapter were responsible for initiating the idea of information law by creating a draft of the Freedom of Information Bill (FIB).
Their manuscript's goal was to establish guidelines for the right of access to information held by the government or its representatives in order to ensure freedom of expression. Multiple reviews were conducted on the FIB's original manuscript. The bill was first introduced to the National Assembly on December 9, 1999, when the opportunity for democratic governance emerged. It was approved by the House of Representatives in 2004 and the Senate in 2006. But before leaving office in 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo was unable to sign it into law. In 2008, the bill was once again presented to the National Assembly (Abone and Kur, 2014). And on May 28, 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act into law, after the lengthiest legislative debate in Nigerian history—a debate that spanned over 12 years.
Although the signing of the FOI bill into law raises Nigeria’s integrity within the comity of nations: its cardinal challenge has been in its implementation. 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 (Apuke, 2017).
Even though the passage of the FOI bill strengthens Nigeria's standing in the international community, its implementation has been the main obstacle. Its applicability in a place like Nigeria, where there is a propensity for breaking the law with impurity, tends to stifle its potential for effective media practice (Apuke, 2017).
The level of readiness on the part of the principal proponents of the FOIA--the journalists, in terms of their maximizing the Act's provisions towards effective journalism practice also raises questions. How well media professionals understand the FOIA's provisions will determine how effectively it is used in Nigeria. According to Malayo (2012), the FOIA's provisions are not widely known by journalists, which hinders their efforts to obtain information held by the government and other public institutions.
1.3 Aim of the Study
The study aims to evaluate the freedom of information act and practice of journalism in Delta state.
1.4 Objectives of the Study
The study has the following specific objectives:
- To determine how well-versed Delta State's journalists are in the Freedom of Information Act's provisions.
- to determine the degree to which Delta State's journalism practice can benefit from the Freedom of Information Act in order to achieve fair, accurate, and impartial reporting.
- To ascertain the potential challenges in the maximization of the Freedom of Information Act in Delta State’s journalism practice.
1.5 Research Hypothesis
H0: There is no statistically significant difference in the impact of the Freedom of Information Act on the practice of journalism in Delta State.
Ha: There is a statistically significant difference in the impact of the Freedom of Information Act on the practice of journalism in Delta State.
1.6 Research Questions
- How well-versed are Delta State's journalists in the Freedom of Information Act's provisions?
- To what degree can Delta State's journalism practice benefit from the Freedom of Information Act in order to achieve fair, accurate, and impartial reporting?
- What are the potential challenges in the maximization of the Freedom of Information Act in Delta State’s journalism practice?
1.7 Justification of the Study
This study will reveal how effective Freedom of Information Act is to the practice of journalism in Delta state. Aside its immense potency to contribute to the body of knowledge, The study also provides a variable insight into provisions of the FOIA, thereby promoting awareness among citizens about their right to access information while holding public officials accountable for their actions.
Through the evaluation of the FOIA, journalists can determine whether public institutions are adhering to the law's provisions on transparency and accountability. This data is crucial for holding government representatives accountable and making sure that the welfare of citizens is their top priority.
Furthermore, evaluating the FOIA can help journalists identify areas where they need to improve their skills and knowledge on accessing government information. This study will help government identify gaps that need to be addressed to protect press freedom. In the end, the study will provide insightful data for future research.
1.8 Scope of the Study
This study focuses on evaluating the freedom of information act and practice of journalism in Delta state. The study is limited to registered journalists who are employed by Delta State's print, broadcast, and government information organizations.