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Wednesday, 29 August 2012


In this brief piece, I am working on the frame of mind that you the members of my good audience are vastly aware of the import of the word mass media. I am also operating with the mindset that the media in the main is made up of the electronic, print and in our contemporary period, we now have the new social media like Face Book, Twitter, ToGo among numerous others.
I will therefore dwell extensively on what I have chosen to identify as “human rights protection as the new frontier of contemporary journalism” because of my belief that the essence of section 22 of our Nigerian Constitution is to task media workers with the duty of protecting human rights of the citizenry and especially of the weak in the society.
Section 22 of the Constitution of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended) is on the obligation of the mass media. It states thus; “The press radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.
In carrying out the legal duty imposed on the Nigerian media, the media workers must clearly understand the full implication of section 14 of the constitution which deals with the primary legal duty of Government to the Nigerian people.
Importantly, section 14, subsection 2(b) states that; “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
Going further in article c of subsection 2, the Constitution provides that; “the participation by the people in their Government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the constitution”.
One of the ways of knowing that there is good governance in a country is when the fundamental human rights of the citizenry are respected by all and sundry and the members of the public allowed unfettered access into how their God given resources are spent by the people they elected and bestowed the democratic mandate to promote only but public good/interest. Chapter four of the constitution is replete with these fundamental rights provisions. The Nigerian media is constitutionally obliged to ensure that these rights are respected and to expose violators for possible prosecution and sanction in the competent court of law in compliance with section 6 of the Constitution. Let me sound a note of caution- for those of you who wish to become media practitioners so as to use the job as platform for inaugurating your political ambitions, you have lost the plot even before the drama begins. This is because the work of the mass media is not a springboard for political advancement of the practitioners but for those who wish to make their mark as respected writers and media workers. Those who go into journalism to use it to carry out public relations with pecuniary interest in mind should forget going into the job because you will end up becoming a big laughing stock among your peers. The media is one institution whereby the weak points and/or professional fault lines of the members are immediately decoded in the news rooms because as the popular saying goes, you are as good as your last byline. What this goes to show is that investigative journalism is the best kind of journalism for journalism/mass communication students to embrace in the nearest future because it would afford the prospective practitioners in the media sector the opportunity to extensively expose the threats posed to the human rights of the ordinary people. Developmental journalism also emphasizes human rights advocacy through the mass media because development essentially serves the interest of the people and provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
But come to think of it; what is human right so much so that we are now being told that it should constitute the new frontier of contemporary journalism in Nigeria?
I will cite the authoritative pronouncement of an erudite scholar Mr. Manfred Nowak, Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann institute of HUMAN Rights at the University of Vienna and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. He alongside Mr. Jeroen Klok and Ms. Ingeborg Schwarw produced a beautiful book titled “HUMAN RIGHTS HAND BOOK FOR PARLIAMENTARIANS”.
According to them; “Human Rights are the most fundamental rights of human beings. They define relationships between individuals and power structures, especially the State. Human rights delimit State power and, at the same time, require States to take positive measures ensuring an environment that enables all people to enjoy their human rights” History, in the last 250 years has been shaped by the struggle to create such an environment. Starting with the French and American revolutions in the late eighteenth century, the idea of human rights has driven many a revolutionary movement for empowerment and for control over the wielders of power, Governments in particular".
These authors further stated that: "Government and other duty bearers are under an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, which form the basis for legal entitlements and remedies in case of non-fulfillment. In fact, the possibility to press claims and demand redress differentiates human rights from the precepts of ethical or religious value systems".
They argued that; "From a legal standpoint, human rights can be defined as the sum of individual and collective rights recognized by sovereign States and enshrined in their constitutions [ as in Nigerian Constitution] and in international law[Universal Declarations of Human Rights; African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, ETC]."
Recalling that since the Second World War, that the United Nations has played a leading role in defining and advancing human rights, which until then had developed mainly within the nation State, these authors charged political authorities and even media practitioners to use their privileged positions to advance human rights.
Reminding us that through the different internal fora that members of the United Nations have worked vigourously to ensure that human rights have been codified in various international and regional treaties and instruments that have been ratified by most countries, and represent today the only universally recognized value system, these erudite scholars are of the view that human society would be incomplete without strict adherence and respect to the sanctity and sacredness of human rights. I share these knowledgeable views totally.
Ms. Ayo Atsenuwa of the faculty of law, University of Lagos produced a beautiful out line on the historicity of the concept of human rights whereupon she stated that the concept of human rights gained currency and has become consistently relevant right from the period of;
· Magna Carta;
· Natural La/Natural Rights Discourse;
· American War of Independence and the American Declaration of Independence/French Revolution & French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen;
· World War I and the Protection of Minorities;
· World War II and the United Nations;
· Cold-War;
· Civil Rights Movement/Women’s Liberation Movement/Decolonization of Africa;
· Post-Cold War/Globalization & Emergence of Neo-liberal ethos;
· Multiculturalism; and the
· Post-Sept 11 2001 terrorists attack of World Trade center in New York; United States of America by suicide bombers sent by the now assassinated Osama Bin-Laden.
Professor Ayo Atsenuwa very rightly stated that;
· Human Rights are the embodiment of human aspirations-
· To have food, shelter and clothing;
· To live, free of want and disease;
· To be assured of justice;
· To be free and allowed to live a life of dignity; and
· To access opportunities for, and not be constrained in self-actualization.
The attributes of human rights are universality; in alienability; indivisibility and interdependent.
I think the media of mass communication in Nigeria is obliged to wage relentless campaign on behalf of the people and also enlighten the people on their fundamental rights. But one major defect is the ownership structure of media establishments in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, political and business elite are the owners of most of the private media houses in the electronic and print just as the media houses run by the different levels of government have failed to open up these media to all divergent views especially those with opposing views to their pay masters. This tendency must change if we ever want to retain public trust and confidence.
One way to do this is for the National media regulators to adequately monitor the use to which media establishments are deployed and to sanction any of the media that fails to work for the public good and interest. Democracy must take firm root and the democratic culture must be imbibed by all and sundry so that media houses owned by state and Federal Governments are independently administered by tested and trusted managers for the general interest of the general public and not the parochial interest of the state Governors of the federal minister of information because public fund do not belong to either the Governors or ministers but belong to the PUBLIC.
The strategy, philosophy, and operational method of journalism in our contemporary Nigerian society must be directed towards serving the best interest of Nigerians. We thank God that good spirited individuals and inventors have come up with the new social media which has democratize the spread of information but we must exercise some decency and discretion so that we do not end up using social media for criminal activities like the unfortunate killing of Miss. Cynthia Osokogu, the daughter of Major General Frank Osokogu who was killed by her online friends who lured her to travel to meet them in Lagos only to end up snuffing the life out of her. May her gentle soul rest in perfect peace, amen.

* Comrade Emmanuel Nnadozie Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission [NHRC] and the National coordinator of the Non-profit, Non-Political and Non-religious organization-HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; HURIWA.

Thursday August 30th 2012.

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