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Published On: Sun, Dec 7th, 2014

Fourth estate of the realm or wreck?

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By Abdulhameed Ridwanullah

Our contemporary society is too big and complex for people to live in isolation. No human being can survive isolated existence. To bridge the gap of remoteness, there must be social interaction among the people.  Happenings in the nooks and crannies and evolving issues around the globe which form the discourse of the day need to be communicated.The mass media serve as the conventional and fundamental means of dispersing and disseminating information to a large, diverse and amorphous audience. As a result, the act of mass communication (print, broadcast and the new media) evolved. The technological advancement in the world has actually accentuated the postulation of Marshal McLuhan that “the world is a global village”. The media (print, broadcast and new media) has unquantified role to play in the society. The media has cogent and undisputed history of performing the communication functions of educating, informing, entertaining etc.

In Nigeria, the role of the media is so intertwined with the historical and political development of the country. They represent the diversity in the country as they serve as both source of “information and advocate”. As far back as 1859 when the first newspaper hit the newsstand in Nigeria, the role of the media has been a higgledy-piggledy. The press has different colorations in line with the political situation of the time. Issues like religion, regionalism, ideology, political affiliation and ethnicity are some of the yardsticks that determine the framing of the media final output (news). The press has been the genesis of both positivity and negativity. Whether the positive supersede the negative or vis-à-vis will be a food for thought.

Many newspapers made their mark from 1880 to 1900. They cemented their place as anti-colonialism advocates. They criticized the political system, administrative policy and spread discontentment about “official plans and policies”. When the agitation for self-government thickened, the newspapers served as the main instrument used by the nationalists to fight the colonialist. The relative freedom we enjoy today can be credited to undiluted and relentless efforts and perseverance of the press. One of these newspapers, The Lagos Times in its bid to affirm the stand of Nigerians for involvement in government published the following: “It is time for us to boldly ask England to associate us with themselves in the matter of regulating and superintending our affairs… none would say that we have no men intelligent enough or patriotic enough to devote some of their time to act as our representatives in the council”.  The renowned journalists of the time who are regarded as the fathers of journalism today are the frontiers of the nationalist movement. People like Dr. NnamdiAzikwe, Herbert Macaulay and similar others were at the fore of the struggle. There firm stand led to constitutional change and gradual involvement of educated elites in government.

The prominent nationalists at the time happened to be the flag bearer of different political parties. During the legislative council election of 1922, both National Youth Movement (N.Y.M) and Nigerian National Democratic Party (N.N.D.P) had Daily Service and the Lagos Daily News as its mouthpiece and affiliate newspapers respectively. This development set the pace for political newspaper. Each of these newspapers were fighting for the interest of their owner. Sycophancy, nepotism, regionalism, tribalism and lack of objectivity became the order of the day. The northern newspapers were also not left out in this malice.

As much as the media contribute to national development, so much obnoxious acts have been perpetrated by Nigerian media that almost shock the country to its very ground. The degree of affinity of the media to politician and political parties can be deduced from their content. This prompt the tag like – ‘Ngbati press’, ‘Igbo press’, Arewa press’ and recently Niger-Delta press’. Much can’t be said of the broadcasting sector because its development according to Professor Umar Pate is “inextricably linked to the country’s political developments, politicians and national interest. The establishment and operations of radio stations have been influenced and affected by politicians…”

The concept of the fourth estate of the realm is to give the press the autonomy and freehand to operate without interference. Abuse and excess of this power by the press will amount to what Professor Ralph Akinfeleye describes as the “fourth estate of the wreck”. It is true that influence on Nigerian media in fighting for independence is obvious, its influence on issues of national interest, agitation for the installation of democracy and similar others can be regarded as a welcome development.

Similarly, the media have also been successful in shaping the reasoning of Nigerians toward regional, political, religion or ethnic direction which has the propensity of instigating and influencing religious or ethnic crises.

The Nigerian Press Council in 1994 also claimed that “The press had in a bid to sell, rattled the sensibilities of decent people in the society, not just by the bold exhibition of lack of finesse but, more unfortunately, by blatant publication of unverified allegations of a nature even bordering on criminality”.

Finally, for our democracy to succeed, the fourth estate of the realm needs to assume it responsibility holistically and immaculately. As the 2015 general is around the corner, the media need to eschew nepotism, ethnicity and regional interest. The media must serve as public sphere and agenda setter. The electorates must have equal access to the media so do the politicians and political parties. The media needs to assume its role as a mediator not a dictator. The fate of this nation is in the balance and only the media can unify it.

AbdulhameedRidwanullah is a final year student, Mass Communication Department, Bayero University, Kano.

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