The protection of human right is always important to the government of any country. The freedom of expression, which guarantees individuals, as well as the press, an opportunity to express their opinions, pass and also receive information. The freedom of the press, although entrenched in almost every country’s laws, are not well recognized or respected. This article aims to juxtapose the advancement of the freedom of expression and also freedom of the press.
Freedom of Expression
The freedom of expression enables citizens to voice out their concerns, as well as opinions about the government, its activities and other issues. The freedom of expression can also be described as a link between the government, the press and the citizens. The importance of this right is provided for it the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that:
“Everyone shall have 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”
In most European countries, the freedom of expression is guaranteed and protected. However, the issue of protection of freedom of expression is on which has divided opinions. On one hand, it is thought that too much press freedom would compromise the activities of the government and also paint the government in bad light. On the other hand, some have argued that the freedom of the press is essential, in order to guide the citizens and also make them aware of government activities.
According to a survey carried out by Reporters without Borders, the restriction of the freedom of press in countries such as China, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, among others, is very serious; unlike countries such as Ireland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, among others, whereby the press have enough freedom to express their opinions.
Freedom of Expression in Nigeria
The freedom of expression is guaranteed under section 39 of the 1999 constitution, as well as Article 19 of the African Charter, which been enacted by virtue of section 12 of the constitution.
Section 39 of the constitution provides as follows:
(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 own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination if information, ideas and opinions.
Article 19 of the African Charter provides that:
(1) Every individual shall have the right to receive information.
(2) Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.
From the provisions above, one can plausibly say that the freedom of expression generally includes the freedom:
1. To have your opinion;
2. Receive and also impart information and ideas;
3. Orally, in writing, in print, art form through the media and other mediums
However, the enforcement of this right is not total, nor has it been expressly recognized by the government in its activities and actions, as seen In the case of Tony Momoh v. Senate where the Court of Appeal held that: “The press or any other medium of information cannot claim any right to confidentiality of the source of their information in a proper investigation by a House of the National Assembly or the police.”
According to the Reporters without Borders in its survey of the freedom of expression in Nigeria, 2017:
“In Nigeria, it is nearly impossible to cover stories involving politics, terrorism or financial embezzlement. Journalists are often threatened, subjected to physical violence or denied access to information by government officials, police and sometimes the public itself”
Just recently, a Premium Times journalist was arrested and pressurized to disclose his source for a story published by his newspaper, in which a letter written by the Inspector General of Police, to the Acting President Yemi Osibanjo. In January, a Nigerian newspaper publisher was detained by security operatives in Anambra State.
The freedom of expression, although guaranteed by section 39 of the constitution; it is also limited by section 45 of the constitution, known as the “limitation clause”. The limitation clause protects: the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public order, public morality or public health; or, for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. It is also limited to situations such as treason, official secrets, defamation, and obscene publications among others. The clash between the government and the press of the freedom of the press is one that will probably continue to linger for a while.