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World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era

World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era

World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era

World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era

Perspectives From Etete Enideneze, a media consultant writes on World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era.

A free press is the hallmark of a democratic and free society, wherein everyone has the rights to freely express his or her views and ideas, participate in public discourse, through speaking, writing, commentary, analysis and publishing, to inform, enlighten, persuade and impart knowledge in audiences/society.

These rights are constitutionally guaranteed in democratic countries, as in Nigeria. They are therefore natural and inalienable rights to be enjoyed without intimidation by any authorities, else a citizen could approach the court for redress.

The rights to free press are basically derived from the fundamental human right to free speech and expression.

Press freedom, therefore applies to every citizen and institutions, as well as the press or established media organisations, publishers, media/ communication practitioners such as journalists, contributors to media publications, public relations and advertising professionals, musicians, theatre artistes, producers and film directors, to mention a few.

Therefore, press freedom is not the exclusive preserve of the institutionalized press or media and journalists alone.

Press freedom is not absolute, despite the enabling constitutional provisions. The rights to free press are limited by many laws which when contravened, put any violator in danger of criminal and civil charges that could lead to slamming of penalities on offenders.

Such laws include, defamation, copyright infringement, invasion of privacy, publishing of false information, hate speech, obscene and prurient content, official secretes, sedition, treason, threat to breach of peace and national security, malicious and blackmail messages, obtaining of information through unlawful means, espionage among others.

World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era
Jonathan and Buhari: Perspectives From Etete Enideneze, a media consultant writes on World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era.

A major implication is that, whoever holds his or herself out or thrust his or herself to the glare of the public, by writing, speaking and publishing information and knowledge to the public, must be aware and adhere to those laws. Or get advice from professional communicators, better still, from legal practitioners, to safely enjoy the right to free speech.

One complex thing about free press is that, information is deemed to have been published orally or in written format, via any medium, if the message has reached a third party. This means that as far as the information has gone out beyond the person affected and the conveyor or publisher, and it has reached even one person, who would also tell another person, then, the content has been published.

Thus, if such information is contravening any of the laws listed above, and others, it has been conveyed to a third party and above that, it has reached a large audience, then it would constitue offence, unless, proved otherwise.

These principles obtain in public communication in Nigeria, which relatively offers better press freedom than some African countries. They also exist in advanced democracies such as America and Britain where there is better press freedom, yet not absolute.

Despite constitutional enablement for free press, incidents of violation of citizens’, media and journalists’ rights to free press have occurred in many countries.

In some countries, protests have been suppressed at various times. journalists, bloggers and publishers etc, have been gagged, censored, intimidated, harassed, had their work tools confiscated, arrested, prosecuted, detained, imprisoned, kidnapped, maimed and lost their lives in course of duty or for excercising their rights to free expression.

The much-celebrated Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria, has not really improved access to information, due to the extant Official Secrets Act, lack of online data-base to access certain public information as well as bureacratic delays in responding to request for information and slow judicial processes.

Press freedom has however been enhanced world over, given emergence of new media technologies, especially the world wide web, internet, social media platforms and miniaturized handheld devises such as the general mobile systems (GSM) phones with Android technology.

Thus, citizens and professional communicators have unfettered access to cheaply produce and spread Information to target or mass audiences, and with better quality than when the established legacy media, their owners, professional journalists, wealthy persons, political elites and government had near monopoly of public communication.

In line with the trends, the legacy media institutions of newspaper, magazine, radio and television, have also adopted multimedia convergence models of publishing and dissemination of information, offline and online. In a similar vein, strategic communication professionals in public relations, advertising, developmental, political, behavioural and health communication are also leveraging on the new media technologies to communicate and interact with target audiences. Private and public organisations and Chief Executives are also feasting on the social media for promotional interests.

The trend has brought about the popular label, Social Media Aides, aka, Data Boys and the self-arrogated bogus title of Social Media Influencers, who are cherished by political executives and government as circular bearers, often without real professionalism.

This social media era, has however also come with its downsides, given the abuse of free press leading to contravention of public communication laws and ethics. This is summed up in the most disturbing phenomenon of fake news in a post-truth society in which there is abundance of information, amid plenty propaganda, misinformation and outright falsehood.

Other problems worsened by the social media are hate speech, invasion of privacy, blackmail, cyber fraud, cyber stalking, cyber bullying, harasments, nudity, pornography, purveyance of ethnocentric and bigotry stereotypes, defamatory and seditious contents, promotion of malice against public office holders and lots more.

These pitfalls, have warranted attempts by governments all over the world, including the Federal Government of Nigeria to tinker over slamming specific laws to regulate the use of new media technologies and social media platforms. Some countries such as China, India and Egypt, already have stringent regulations for the use of social media.

Although, Nigeria has old laws guiding public communication, as listed earlier in this article, besides a cyber law in existence, the government has been making spirited attempts to further control the use of social media, with new laws.

While the move is feared as a plot to gag free press, the pitfalls of the social media where anything goes, especially, from the keyboards of non-professional communicators, and even some professionals, the downsides of the hitec-communication era, seem to justify the need for more stringent regulations. This is more so if regulations are not for curtailing press freedom.

Perspectives From Etete Enideneze, a media consultant writes on World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era.

The call today, is for enhancement of press freedom, more access to information, and adherence to laws and ethics on the part of professional communicators as well as citizens, while enjoying press freedom.

Journalism should be accorded a charter status like other chartered professions, to know who is a journalist offline, online or both places of practice.

Professional journalists, mass communication students, fresh communication graduates and experts in other fields, ought to flood the social media space with more quality and reliable information, to curb fake news.

With better press freedom, lawful and ethical enjoyment of that right, on the part of the press and citizens, society would be more democratic, and will advance for the better.

Perspectives From Etete Enideneze, a media consultant writes on World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era.

World Press Freedom: Challenges and Prospects in New Media Era

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