Information is a very essential part of human development. It is important for personal growth and societal growth. Having access to relevant and accurate information is very critical to making informed decisions that will be helpful to the sustenance of human and socioeconomic development.
Access to the right information is needed in the education of generations, policy formulations, innovation and creativity, environmental safety, challenges to the health and wellbeing of people, and personal development to contribute to economic growth and progress of the society. To achieve this, freedom of expression should be guaranteed and as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Article 19 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The right to freedom of expression as guaranteed is broad and it is to ensure the limitlessness to information and its importance in the world.
To have access to limitless information, there is a need to have freedom of the press. Through the media, information is dispersed to a wide range of people at the same time. As we talk about freedom of the press, we must acknowledge oftentimes the limitations of the freedom of journalists who go to lengths to get the information and break it down to bits that will ensure easy assimilation.
Journalists go through many life threatening lengths to cover news or investigate what is hidden to the public which leads them to sometimes paying the supreme price. To ensure the principles of freedom of expression is upheld, the United Nations in 1993, declared May 3 of every year, a day to enlighten the public and remind those in government, the importance and the relevance of having freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
With the theme: ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’, it is worth knowing that without freedom of expression, all other human rights are in jeopardy – the right to free association and peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, freedom of religion or belief, right to cultural life, right to education, right to vote, and other human rights.
In the era of disinformation or misinformation and serious attack on freedom of expression, governments’ allure to censoring the media, World Press Freedom Day, becomes a day to bring back to the front burner that press freedom and freedom of expression are panacea to a healthy and functioning democracy as well as peaceful society.
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President Buhari who toyed with censoring the media, with the eventual closure of Twitter, said, “We have kept the faith. We have ensured that Nigerian journalists have had unfettered freedom to practise their art, and on this occasion of World Press Freedom Day, we recommit to that resolution, even as we wind down in office.”
Under the Buhari administration, several attempts to introduce anti-social media law, were made as draconian charges were fined on some media establishments to suppress and censor their publications. If President Buhari thinks he should rejoice for having not locked up journalists for doing their job, he remained mute where some journalists suffered in the hands of some governors and some individuals, who intimidate the journalist as some were locked up.
Due to poor safety and poor remuneration, many journalists have desired to cut corners in order to make ends meet as the proprietors sometimes kill or suppress vital information in the bid to please people in power. These acts affect the quality of information which harms the society.
Joseph Stiglitz, the 2001 Nobel Prize recipient in Economic Sciences, said, “Free speech and a free press not only make abuses of governmental powers less likely; they also enhance the likelihood that people’s basic social needs will be met. Secrecy reduces the information available to the citizenry, hobbling people’s ability to participate meaningfully. Essentially, meaningful participation in democratic processes requires informed participants.”
With a free press and freedom of expression, people’s basic needs that are often left undone are exposed and attended to. Freedom of expression encourages debate on issues of social concern.
Censorship is not good for social development. As defined by Funk & Wagnalls, it is the “supervision and control of the information and ideas that are circulated among the people within a society. In modern times, censorship refers to the examination of books, periodicals, plays, films, television and radio programs, news reports, and other communication media for the purpose of altering or suppressing parts thought to be objectionable or offensive.”
The commemoration of freedom of expression and press free day should not be limited to a day, it should be everyday as every day there is censorship, human rights are violated and the society pays for it.