1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The development of Nigerian politics is interwoven with that of the press. The early press, notably Townsend’s Iwe Iroyin fun awon oti Egba Yoruba, the Nigerian first newspaper was used as a political propaganda tool to fight the colonial administration in Lagos during the struggle for Independence. Akinfeleye, R.A (1987) reports that the newspaper was so effective that the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in England found it necessary to caution Townsend over his “excesses” in 1963.
He further comments that a year later, governor freeman complained to the home government that Iwe Irohin was “aggravating problems of foreign policy”. This explains why the press is viewed as a very powerful weapon in the hands up both the government and the governed. It is the seeming efficacy of the media that Akinfeleye, R.A (1987) writes that “As an institution, the press has been described variously”. Some people see and perceive it as the “watch dog of the society”, some describes it as a “mirrow” through which society sees itself as it is.
In similar vein, others describe the press as “the unrecognized fourth arm of government”. This later description of the press gave rise to the tag on the press all over the world as the “fourth estate of the realin”, thus being accorded the fourth position on the hierarchy of leadership in a democratic society.
The other arms of government being referred to include the executive, judiciary and legislature.
As the fourth estate of the realm, press enhances not only the smooth operation, performance and interactions between the various arms of government in the service of the people, but also prevents any operation of the people by these arms of government.
Similarly, the press in performing its “watch dog role”, Edeani (1993:80) posits that press the press is supposed to keep a watchful eye on what the government is doing and has the obligation on behalf of the public to criticize the government whenever it thinks that the government has not performed in the public interest.
This not withstanding, the pen profession, like any other profession can also affect a society – negatively or positively. On the positive side, the press (mass-media) appear to possess unequalled and unparallel capacities and capabilities to unveil, portray and reflect the society in which it operates.
On the negative aspect, Kenneth Kaunda, a Former Zambian President explains “given appropriate conditions, the press can cause war or create peace. It can promote development or create difficulties in ways of development”.
What the above statement by Kaunda simply means, is that it is counter productive for any society to create conditions that would provide the press the opportunity of exhibiting its negative traits since the consequences are always far-reaching.
Mahatma Ghandi acknowledges this much when he said “the press is a great power but as an unchained torrent submerges the whole country side and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy”.
Okunna (2001:75) supports the press for its roles in politics when she says the history of the press in many societies shows that journalists have always been in the forefront of the struggle for freedom. The best journalists, that is, those who distinguish themselves and stand out among their peers are journalists who speak for the people/or grant people access to the media
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