Ethics, Free Speech And The Press


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



LUNARPAGES.COM and IPOWERWEB.COM - Despicable WebHosts - Read My Story





Ethics, Free Speech And The Press




Jaafar Jaafar  





April 29, 2006 


Since the debut of world’s first printed newspaper, Dibao (Pao) in the seventeenth century in China, newspapers, the historians say, have supported, instigated and justified wars. They cite examples like the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the Vietnam War of 1955-75. Another good example of this is the French News Agency report of 1967 on the killings of Hausa-Fulanis in Port Harcourt. Even though false, the “freedom” led to the pogrom in the North. Why can’t the press sacrifice the truth when it comes to security of lives as the English statesman, Arthur Ponsonby once noted? “When war is declared, truth should be the first casualty,” he said. Or, why wouldn’t the “government create a society where a news item can’t start a riot,” as the obviously livid Adamu Adamu admonished in his Friday column (Daily Trust Apr. 28)?

Today, there are over 38,000 newspapers in world vying with each other for readership. “Let pogrom occur as long as we scoop the other players,” a publisher once told a confidant. What an ethic!

Sidi H Ali, one of the fine brains of the Second Republic legislature and veteran journalist wrote in his book The WAI as an ideology of moral rectitude “It is not controversial writers, who incite one group against the other and get a steaming headline in the media, who are true journalists.” He added that “it’s true some journalists are comfortable and feel important only when their names are associated with controversial articles that cause trouble.” So the pro-Third Term ‘wrap-around’ advert of THIS DAY (20th April 2006) and the Vanguard’s copy-cattish version, aptly underscore  Sidi Ali’s remark – to feel “comfortable and feel important.” Olusegun Adeniyi, the editor, set out to appease, clarify (or rather precipitates heated debate as intended) a day after being lured to offer his widely-read page to faceless scoundrel. One of the pages among other few ones in the national dailies that give direction to many before forming opinion. So now, did Segun want to say that unpalatable adverts is worthy of disappointing thousands of their teeming readers and can be sacrificed at the alter of what he describes as “free speech”?

In my opinion, the ethics or “free speech” questions do not even arise. Why? There is no absolute free speech in journalism everywhere in the world. In Western societies, they have something similar to that but not absolute. But we are all aware that what we have in this clime is just a token fraction. Isioma Danials’ case and cartoon controversy were good examples. Resentment and what DG of SSS, Col. Kayode Are (rtd), called “threat to national security” are some of the impediments. Even with a disclaimer, as Daily Illini, the University of Illinois newspaper did, I’m sure THISDAY can’t run that pro-Israel pictures in this multi-ethno-religious society.

Or is it as Flemming Rose, editor of the sacrilegious Danish newspaper that published the profane cartoons of prophet Muhammad (SAW) said? Thus, it’s all to test the limits of free speech, he said. In the same breath, why did the know-all whites sentenced David Irvin to three years imprisonment for voicing his opinion? He said: “The Holocaust did not happen.” If at all such free speech exists, the world should have apologised to poor Irvin! A columnist of the TIMES, Giles Coren later wrote that the paper had a policy to “ignore Irvin and pretend that he does not exist.” Given the above, one would ask, where lies the wisdom of the cliché, “free speech”?

Sometimes the roots of the violation of this “ethics” could also be traced to newsroom. Is there any reporter that can report something bad about his editor’s wife, parents or close relatives? A big threat to his “ID card” for sure. Can any paper scoop other newspapers and publish a corrupt or dastardly act of its publisher? I’m sure it’s only a semi-ethical one would whitewash and run it when it obviously becomes stale.

In a two-day seminar organised in Lagos in 1992 on mass media, national security and the law, the participants asked the question: “fourth estate or fifth column?” However, the chief executive of Concord Press of Nigeria, late Chief Mashood Abiola, who organised the seminar in conjunction with the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, said that the “issue at stake strives to strike at the heart of our problems.” The late philanthropist added that every establishment, every government, every business and every family has some facts and information which it will not release for public consumption. “No responsible father takes his family problem to the town hall,” he concluded.

Ujudud Shariff once lamented (in his Tuesday column) about unethical practices of the press. He wrote that there was time in the early 90s a female reporter dug out a story about late Bola Ige’s other “wife” and “children.” When she told her editor about her findings, the editor (possibly Ige’s relative), swept the story that could have made a headline under the carpet of the newsroom.”

Still on that pro-3rd Term inane advert. I still wonder how disappointed the teeming readers (or many Nigerians) of say Concord and other pro-democracy media would have felt had they run pro-Abacha permutation adverts in those days. These pro-democracy media’s views were invariably for democracy as THIS DAY’s, given the paper’s editorials. But they did not run the nonexistent “Dr Atkins” advertorial. So why did THIS DAY run an obscene advert that worried, disheartened and aggravated your teeming readers whose patronage is what elevates you to such primacy? I beat my brains out but the answer is not forthcoming.

Eureka! Muhammed Haruna, the master-journalist, proffered the answer in his ever-insightful Wednesday column (Daily Trust, 26 Apr. 2006). “I am told that the ‘wrap-around’ in question cost the advertisers the princely 10,000.000 with discount and all.” He wrote “this was good money even the wealthiest newspaper could do with.”

What one may still ask is what on earth would carry away the ever-present “The Verdict…” column? Some many say an important message. Amazingly however, an obscene Third Term campaigners’ advert sat in for Olusegun Adeniyi! Even though it was meant to “wrap-around” our psyche, going by the hysteria, the message misfires. My lamentation, as a Nigerian, is that a swarm of Third Term locusts have began to do away with one of the robust pillars holding the Forth Estate for over a decade. And that projected such sombreness that the edifice is about to sink into the abyss of Third Term catastrophic quake. Heaven forbid!

In trying to make things clear and reaffirm THIS DAY’s position over the pro-3rd Term advert, the editor tried to import a precedent from far away Illinois, US, to underpin his points. How could Segun make such an off-key comparison with a university newspaper that has a parochial readership and a paper (THIS DAY) that is read all over the country? Dear reader, have you ever seen, or if you do, when last did you see or read Lagos State University newspaper? Even if Daily Illini circulates around Illinois State (with only 12.4 million population), I can say that its impact is not nationally (as in US) felt as that of THIS DAY in Nigeria (with about 150 million estimated population).

I support Colonel Are on issues regarding to “national interest” (not Adamu Adamu’s perception) vis-à-vis the “freedom of free speech.” But the problem with Nigeria is that it is the government and its security operatives that first arrogate and violate the “national interest” (Adamu Adamu’s perception): the government suppresses opposition, marginalises other groups, etc. But for better or worse, press influences government policies, informs the government about the plight of the masses, you name it.  That’s why I believe the press is force to reckon with.



horizontal rule

© 1999 - 2006 Segun Toyin Dawodu. All rights reserved. All unauthorized copying or adaptation of any content of this site will be liable to  legal recourse.


Segun Toyin Dawodu, P. O. BOX 710080, HERNDON, VA  20171-0080, USA.

This page was last updated on 10/27/07.