Freedom of expression is the concept of being able to transfer ideas or thoughts verbally or otherwise freely without censorship. It was awarded global recognition as a universal human right and ingrained in the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In spite of its status, it is never absolute in any country. The international law posits that, restrictions on free speech must comport with a strict three part test viz: operate under provision of the law, express legitimacy in pursuing aim, and display the relevance to the accomplishment of the said aim.
To this end, the dignity of a person is much more of his expression than wealth. In actual sense, the loss of freedom of expression is equated to loss of credibility in all respects. Governments today spend billions in branding themselves as investor destinations providing return on investment through social, economic and political stability. However, these efforts to achieve desired economic growth becomes unrewarding with a subdued sense of expression.
Like a spectrum of colours in rainbow, the society displays the wealthy and poor in ranks of dignity; regimes with rotten ideologies, people with divisive utterances and societies with despised wisdom. Freedom of mass media is the fundamental basis on which democracy and good governance are pivoted. Advantages of free press is the reason for the revolution in information that forms the global village (globalisation).
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As history notes, Sukarno, the former President of Indonesia, during a visit to Hollywood characterised media as unconscious revolutionaries because media-makers create new expectations, increase knowledge of other possibilities of better life for example, of other ideologies, and even other forms of governances. And as very often been stated, it remains true, what the eminent Thomas Jefferson, one time American President had to say once, and I quote: Were it left for me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter ……” Tacitly put by Dr. Outa, Research and Communications Advisor, “our safety is perhaps unconceivable today without a vigilant and questioning press that reminds us constantly of our shortcomings” Indeed it is a truism that in the modern world, the press is the primary source of quick and actionable pieces of information, without which our citizens and their leaders at large would remain, fatally ignorant!
Thus free press has gains inclusive of the dissemination of Economic Development objectives to the populaces, the objective of mobilising a whole country to walk the development talks However, may it be noted that several schools of thought have registered their support for the control of mass media. The question of media regulation stems from the fact that media are social institutions and equally, they are industries operation in society. It follows therefore that media are faced with some mechanism that controls their functions and mechanisms, just like any other industry.
Without the due diligence to these fundamental principles of fairness, accuracy, the very defence of press freedom collapses and thereby opening the unsavoury gates of acrimony and misunderstanding with a whole range of stakeholders. For example, Gerbner (1969) argues that mass communicators operate under pressure, including for example advertisers, competitors, authority (legal/political structures), other institutions and the audience. To the extent that media are part and parcel of society, a measure of control is required. Media control is difficult because of the unique place media occupies in society.
For example: i) they produce goods and services which are both private and public in nature. Public service in that the info is necessary for the working of society; private because there is personal gratification, ii) Media have unique characteristics because they perform a political function whereby free press is an important element of democracy. In that case, there should be no monopoly of information by any one quarter. Media occupy that important perch because, historically, what media do or do not do has mattered in society and public life. Media, if not a public property, is in the public domain.
Since media operate in society and are related in some ways to the prevailing societal structures viz: politics, economics, culture it is only fair that it be controlled by the some structures. This is so because media are able to: attract and direct attention; mould public opinion; influence behaviour and confer status; and confer dominant definitions in society—who is to be listened to; who is to be followed, etc. Media regulations and control in any given society depend on the prevailing media environments, which differ from one place to another, one time to another, one period to another, one culture to another.
Although the importance of press freedom cannot be denied, it is generally asserted that media can promote visions of common purpose and at the same time can promote visions of discord and disunity. Although it is accepted that objectivity should be the guiding spirit, instances of press partisanship have been common place globally—sensationalism, owner interference, pursuit of profits, self-interest, etc. Every State has a political interest in controlling the activities of the media within its boundaries. This interest is a legitimate one based on the idea of sovereignty.
Yet when we accept that sovereignty is supreme, the following questions become important:
- Who defines the role of the media?
- How much control should the State exercise?
- What acceptable methods and instrument of control should the State adopt?
These questions lack easy answers. In spite of all, mass communicators agree that self regulation is a perfect way of media being on track yet the Swahili proverb of Kinyozi hajinyowi (barber cannot shave himself) creates a dilemma of state/authoritative interventions.
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