The Nigerian government has been strongly advised to steer clear of any plan to regulate digital journalism in the New Year or in the coming years because regulation of the digital journalism as being contemplated by government runs contrary to the fundamental human rights of freedom of the press and freedom of speech as entrenched in the 1999 Constitution.
A public affairs analyst and freedom of speech activist, Dr. Emmanuel Ufuophu-Biri, an Associate Professor of Mass Communication at the Delta State University, Abraka gave the advice while speaking as the Guest Lecturer at the Nigerian Union of Journalists Press Week organized by the Delta State Chapter of the union at Asaba.
Dr. Ufuophu-Biri stated that only a government that has something to hide should be contemplating regulating digital journalism and that regulation of digital journalism would make government unable to appreciate the rhythm of the people’s feeling, thus promoting and perpetuating anti-people and unpopular policies and actions.
He states “make no mistake about it, regulating digital journalism is regulating the mass media in Nigeria because the mass media have gone digital globally. What therefore is the fear of the government about digital journalism? If government does what is right it will be so reported, if it does wrong it will be so reported. The mass media report what happens and do not create what it reports.
He adds that “digital journalism actually is the best way that government could know how the citizens feel. The digital mass media allow the people to express themselves and therefore discourage them from storing up negative emotions but if the digital mass media are regulated, as government is proposing, people will have to bottle up their emotions and when these emotions explode there could be danger.
He advised government to learn from the 2011 explosions of bottled up emotions that led to the revolutions in the North African and Middle Eastern countries of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. He added that regulating digital journalism is, therefore, a potential danger that is not good for anybody.
Dr. Ufuophu-Biri noted that “even during the military regimes in Nigeria the gagging of the press was not as bad as is being proposed at the moment. If the press had not fought relentlessly and selflessly during the military regime, the present democracy would have been utopian. Those enjoying government in this present democratic dispensation are all enjoying the fruit of the labour of the Nigerian press.”
“This is because when the different military regimes had drowned democracy, driven the opposition away and terrorized opposing voices, the only man left standing to challenge the military autocracy was the Nigerian press. For the government that has enjoyed this fruit of the labour of the Nigerian press to propose regulating the press is tantamount to biting the finger that feeds one. Spiritually this can lead to the invocation of retributive karma against the one that is an ingrate”.
He explained that the United States of America, Canada and Western Europe countries were not contemplating regulating or criminalizing digital journalism. Digital journalism is fully practised in those countries and several other countries of the world and nobody was talking of regulating or criminalizing it.
“In the US, President Donald Trump is facing impeachment trial and the Israeli Prime Minister has just been indicted and faces possible removal from office. These two events are adequately reported by the digital media. Despite the fact that these two men are some of the most powerful people in the world they have not talked about regulating or criminalizing digital journalism for the reports”
“However, Nigeria, where there is gross poverty, corruption, crime, poor governance, administrative ineptness, crass public rapacity, nepotism, legitimization of criminality, infrastructural decay, near absolute lack of food, unemployment, scarcity of happiness and dearth of public facilities and where there is absolutely nothing good going on for the people and government, is contemplating regulating digital journalism”.
Dr. Ufuophu-Biri pointed out that digital journalism has democratized journalism, deconstructed the monopoly of the mainstream media, given voice to the voiceless, created job opportunity for many people, unbundle journalism, brought happiness to the people, served as a functional watchdog, served as the true Fourth Estate of the Realm, brought fear to government with regards to bad governance, bridged the gap between the hitherto information-rich and the information poor. So what is the fear of government about digital journalism?
He adds that “digitalization has simplified journalism practice and made it accessible to everybody at a cheaper rate and dreadful governments thus regard digital journalism as sharp bone in their throats.