World Press Freedom Day, 2012: Media Freedom Helping To Transform Societies By Gbemiga Bamidele

Every Year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom. It is a date to evaluate press freedom around the world and to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and also to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The annual date was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) by the UN General Assembly in 1993, following a Recommendation adopted at the 26th session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.

This in turn responded to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the Windhoek declaration which also insisted that Press Freedom, henceforth should mean media pluralism and independence.

The general significance of the day on the international calendar is that it serves to encourage citizens and authorities to cherish press freedom values, and to sensitize them about the adverse consequences of   violation of the right to freedom of expression.

It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and for journalists to reflect about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is a day of remembrance for those colleagues of ours who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘’Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies’’. Free- media transform societies by enlightening the decision making process with information, thus empowering individuals to take control of their destinies. In this context, media freedom plays a crucial role in the transformation of society by reshaping its political, economic and social aspects.

The confluence of press freedom and freedom of expression, through various traditional as well as new media has given rise to an unprecedented level of media freedom. It is helping to enable civil society, youths and communities to bring about massive social and political transformations. Media freedom entails the right of any person to freedom of opinion and expression as enshrined in section 39 of the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. This include freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers as stated in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Media freedom is undermined by lack of information infrastructures as well as the skills and literacy to access and critically evaluate information. Not only do many people do not have access to be able to express themselves publicly, they are also deprived of information resources that could otherwise empower them. The lack of access is particularly glaring in the context of admittance to the internet and computers.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), more than 60percent of the world’s households still do not own a computer and no more than 35percent of the world population consider themselves as internet users’’ with the vast majority of those surveyed belonging to the developing countries. However, despite the fact that information is yet to be accessible to everybody at all times, there are some encouraging trends. A particularly bright spot is the development of ever cheaper and more powerful mobile telephony. Currently, there are about 5.3billion mobile phones in use throughout the world and the numbers are increasing month by month. Some recent studies also suggest that by 2015, more than 5.6billion personal devices will be connected to mobile networks, and at least 788million users will be connected to the Internet exclusively from mobile platform. Already, short-messaging system (SMS) is being used to disseminate latest news to mobile phone users who would otherwise be left out of the information loop. Harnessing this development could be seen as one way to improve the access to information to the majority of people in the world.

Nevertheless, infrastructure alone are not only the consideration in the issue of access. Good access could be greatly aided with information friendly policies, and a solid implementation of freedom of information act (FOIA) or right to information act (RTI). Less than half of the world’s countries including Nigeria have some kind of FOIA or RTI in accordance with international standards and national needs. Journalists are natural allies in this regard as they are well positioned to sensitize the public on this and other sundry related issues.

But the question is wether or not journalists have conducted themselves as easy access to public information, through fair and balanced reporting particularly the electoral process. Elections are the cornerstone of democracy, and journalists have a vital role in election process. They have the power to mobilize voters and remind them of their responsibilities and rights. Journalists also have a duty to express citizen’s problems and expectations to the candidates, and reporting the irregularities in the organization of the elections. They should assist in voter’s education, provide timely, accurate and factual information, unbiased report, equal coverage and avoid unethical conducts.

Journalists should conduct themselves in ways that help to overcome people’s sense of powerless and alienation. The goal is to produce news that citizens need to be educated about issues and current events, to make civic decisions, to engage in civic dialogue and action, and generally to exercise their responsibilities in a democracy.

They should engage themselves in promoting open and democratic government through advocacy for public access to information and participation in governance. This is the only way they can observe the Union’s creed, doctrine and article of faith: ‘’Good Governance and Protection of Human Rights’’.

The World Press Freedom Day will certainly be an occasion for many stakeholders to celebrate the significance of media freedom, to deliberate on how to best resolve the new challenges of elaborating this right in complex and changing circumstances.

Gbemiga Bamidele, Assistant National Secretary 1 of NUJ can be reached @: [email protected]/08033237973

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