Laws are meant to guide human behaviour. And any organisation cannot operate successfully with Laws guiding such an organisation.
Any discussion on media operation will not be complete without taking a look at the aspect of Law influencing the practice of journalism in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world.
Practitioners of Journalism just like any other professionals such as doctors and lawyers do not operate without laws governing or guiding their conduct. Journalists as the watch dog of the society operate in an organised social system that is guarded by rules and regulation as watchdog they ought to know the limitations, constraints or challenges facing them in the pursuit of their calling (Nwodu 2006:157).
This unity is an attempt to provide with an in depth insight into the law guiding the practice of journalism in Nigeria.
At the end of this unit, you should be able to:
- demonstrate knowledge of media laws and freedom of the press
- differentiate between the Official Secrets Act and other forms of media law.
- explain defamation and the Law of Sedition in broadcast journalism.
3.0 MAIN CONTENT
3.1 Definition of Media Law
From time immemorial man learnt that, law in whatever form is necessary for attainment of order, peaceful coexistence and general progress in the society. It is quite difficult to think of any society that functions without laws. Sambe and Ikoni (2004:8) state that the functions of Law are:
- To ensure and maintain order and tranquility in the society.
- To achieve justice and fairness in the society.
- To protect the right and interest of the weak and oppressed on the society.
- To protect the integrity and the personality of an individual.
- To preserve the fundamental values of the society.
What then is Media Law? Media Law may be defined as the rules and regulations that guide the operation of the media of communication either through public or private channels and the punishment that goes along with the person or group or persons that violate the law.
Sambe and Ikoni further posit that it is the law that establishes or allows for the establishment of media houses that act as the guideline for their operation, the limitation within which they are to operate and the sanction that will be placed against anybody that transgresses its provisions. In a nutshell, it is the rules which govern the professional conduct of all those that are involved in media practice.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 1
- What is Media Law?
3.2 Press Freedom
Freedom of the press has been a very controversial issue in the practice of Media and the law because Press Freedom deals with the freedom of individual in the society. Because of its importance to Media practitioners and government it is enshrined in the constitution of almost every nation including human right-based organisation charter.
The American First Amendment Act of 1970 declares that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of people peacefully to assemble, and petition government for a redress of guidance”. Likewise, the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, Section 39 (1) states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinion and to receive and impart ideas and information without interferences”.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impact information and idea though any Media, regardless of frontier”. All these declarations are saying the same thing that both the press and the individual have freedom of expression. To seek, receive and impact information can only be done in a social climate where there in unrestricted freedom. Information is important to the restriction of its flow will amount to denial of human right to freedom of expression. Gathering and disseminating information is a right so no authority should hinder the press from performing its cardinal function.
Ndolo, (2006:221), cited in Nwodu, (2006:160), is of a similar opinion when he states that “a press free from government control and the relationship of such a press to the form and stability of government and to economic growth and quality of life”
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 2
- What do you understand by Press freedom?
3.3 Official Secrets Act
In spite of declarations of several bodies on freedom of the press and the individual, absolute freedom of expression does not exist in any part of the world.
Nwodu (2006:163) notes that even where the press seems to enjoy reasonable degree of freedom, such freedom always goes with some limitation. And one of the ways to hinder the free and unrestricted information flow is the Official Secrets Act.
Governments usually enact the Secrets Act to check against publications of may be termed confidential information or document thereby threatening the security of the nation.
Ewelukwa (2004:242) says the Official Secrets Act are legislations made by the government to prevent people who have custody of secret or official documents, such as policy decisions, contacts and actions of government from recklessly divulging them to the public.
The Official Secrets Act has been brought about for the reason that people should misuse or abuse the act of freedom of expression. Elias (1969:42) declares that a document is clarified if it is clearly marked out as a document that is not to be disclosed to the public and of which the disclosure to the public would endanger the security of the nation. It is as a result of this “clarified document” that gave rise to the motion of official secret act.
Nwodu (2004:164) states that the essence of the Act is to:
- Restrain mischievous public servant from leaking government confidential information.
- To check the excesses of zealous journalists who may out of desperation publish top government secrets information that may threaten the stability of state.
- To safeguard the security of the state by checking access to and publication to secret information likely to cause chaos, anarchy and mass action against a government.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 3
- What do you think is the main reason for enacting Official Secret Act by a government?
3.4 Law of Defamation
The law recognises in every man they might to have the estimation in which he stands in the opinion of others unaffected by false or defamatory statement and imputations. Defamatory statement may be made in several ways. Sambe and Ikoni (2004:47) state that defamation is any statement that tends to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society generally or cause them to shun or avoid him or discredit him in his office, trade or profession or injure his financial credit. Deformation can also be said to be and intentional false communication either published or publicly spoken, that injures another reputation or good name.
In the case of McGowan v. Prentice L.A. APP 341 502 & 55,57.US, cited in Sambe and Ikoni (2004:48), it was decided against others that defamation is that which tends to injure reputation, to diminish the esteem, respect, good will or confidence in which the plaintiff is held or to excite adverse, derogatory or unpleasant feeling or opinions against him. From what we have seen so far one van bears witness that a communication tends to be defamatory if it does some harm to the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or stop third person from associating or dealing with him or her. A statement can be clarified as defamatory if it tends to:
- Expose him or her to hatred, ridicule or contempt.
- Caused him or her to be shunned or avoided.
- Lower him or her in the estimation or right-thinking members of the society generally.
- Disparage him or her in his or her office, profession or trade.
A statement can be said to be defamatory if it damages the reputation of the person in the eye of the right-thinking members of the society generally. This is the case because reputation tends to be what society holds of him or her not what he thinks of himself.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 4
When would you say a person has been defamed?
3.5 Law of Sedition
We have seen that defamation is communication that tends to poison public minds against an individual. Sedition, on the other hand, is communication that poisons public minds against any government.
Nwodu (2006:170) says sedition is a communication that tends to defame any government in power and by extension incites members of the public to embark on action against the government. A seditious publication, therefore, has the potential of inciting the masses against the government. There is no government in the world that tolerates mass action against it. Such actions are usually viewed as treasonable offence against the state and as such government normally takes drastic steps or action against those responsible for such publication including those who aid in the circulation of such material.
In some cases news media or Media houses are closed down because public uprising over their news content. In such circumstances a Nigerian government makes use of Criminal Code Act Cap 77 of 1990 which empowers both the Federal and State government to not only confiscate any publication likely to bring government to ridicule and public contempt, but to also close down such media house. The material could be about to be published; it can confiscated if viewed to the seditious.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 5
- Advances reasons why government does not tolerate sedition publication.
In this unit we have taken a look at some not all Media Laws and we have seen or observed that Media practitioners do not operate in a climate of legal function. And there is no organisation that functions without Laws guiding its operation. We have also seen that in order not to abuse freedom of the press; certain laws have been put in place to check the excesses of journalists.
Organisations the world over have seen the need for people to seek information and ideas and be informed as well without hindrances by any government. However in order to check abuses and bring disrepute against government certain Laws and Acts have been enacted such as the Official Secret Act and the Criminal Code Act. These Acts have empowered government to act in a way deemed fit by confiscating or closing down the Media houses that have gone out of their way publish information that is injured to government.
6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT
- Vividly give a definition of Media Laws.
- Discuss the First Amendment of the USA and what it stands for.
- What do you understand by the Law of Sedition?