By Barrister Magashi
The primary source of rights of journalists is enshrined in section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). It reads:
Section 39(1): Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
(2): Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, opinion and ideas.
There are other laws that provide for the conducts of journalism vis a vis rights and prohibitions. Among them is the Freedom of Information Act. The FOI Act is to make public records and information more freely available (See the long title of the Act). This Act opens a wide door in journalism.
DUTIES OF JOURNALISTS
Journalists educate the public about events and issues and how they affect their lives. They spend most of their time interviewing expert sources, searching public records and other sources of information, and sometimes visiting scenes where crime or other newsworthy occurrence took place. (https//work.chron.com).
If this is the duty of journalists, then they deserve the rights to have protection from elements that may deprive them of these duties. The FOI Act is a masterpiece as far as journalism is concerned. It is the Law that gave journalists the ultimate right and power to have access to any public document as they desire. Punishment awaits those that refuse to let journalist access to public documents. Court records are public records. Thus, every journalist has the right to request for the records of any person undergoing or already tried by a court of law. Subject however to some legal procedures set by the law.
In so far as the law provides rights and protections to journalists, the general public needs to be protected from the wrath of sharp journalism.
DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER
While the rights of journalist are protected by the law, restrictions are however provided to prevent the journalists from going astray. A journalist has the right to investigate an issue and make a report thereof. In such situation, the journalist doesn’t have the right to defame the character of the person. Where such defamation occurs, the journalist will be stripped of his prestigious rights, and the person defamed will have every right to enforce his rights in a court of law.
Libel: This is a form of defamation of character that is published as opposed to slander which is spoken verbally. Libel is false information. In the course of journalism, the dignity of the subject has the full protection of the law. Hence, the person libeled against can enforce his right in the court of law against the libelous journalist. Refer to the case of I G Wala, the social media activist.
Sedition is referred to as conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state. It is first defined in 1590 as the ‘notion of inciting by words or writing disaffection towards the state or constituted authority. Sedition is an offence against the state not individual. It can carry the weight of treasonable felony or even treason.
INTIMIDATION & THREAT
These are instances where a journalist uses intimidation and threat towards an authority or individual. Genuine or otherwise, intimidation and threats are actionable in court against the journalist. These are taken seriously by the authorities.
Some people may live with a secret they may not want to expose. A journalist may come across that secret and expose it to the general public. The position of the law is that if the person will be able to provide that he suffers injury as a result of that exposure, he may have a case against the jo9urnalist.
In journalism, cartoon is creating drawing that represents and event or person(s) or both. It is usually drawn in a comedic way. In law, drawing a cartoon in magazines, newspaper or journal on itself is not actionable even if the character is drawn in a way that looks funny and laughable. But if the cartoon represents any of the issues itemized above, the journalist will have no respite and the law will take its wrath on him.
SHARE, RETWEET, FORWARD AND COPY & PASTE.
A journalist should be careful in adopting any of these. By the Law, a person that shares, retweet, forward or copy and paste a defamatory writeup is seen as one that believes in it and share the same opinion, unless he specifies his intention. Thus, he is equally liable as the original author.
By Barrister Magashi