1.1 Background to the Study
Access to information is essential to the health of democracy for at least two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.
In some societies, an antagonistic relationship between media and government represents a vital and healthy element of fully functioning democracies. In post-conflict or ethnically homogenous societies such a conflictual, tension-ridden relationship may not be appropriate, but the role of the press to disseminate information as a way of mediating between the state and all facets of civil society remains critical. Buckingham, (2000).
According to Norris, (2006). Support for media is a critical prong of Nigeria democracy and governance assistance. USAID Strategic Objective 2.3, “Increased development of a politically active civil society,” provides a rationale for media-related programming. Intermediate Result 2.3.4, “Enhanced free flow of information,” broadly states the Agency's goal for media activities.
While media is considered by USAID to be a part of the civil society arena, it is well known that media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance. For example, support for media may yield results in governance activities, particularly those related to decentralization, anti-corruption, and citizen participation in the policy process. The rule of law may be further institutionalized by support for an independent media that keeps a check on the judiciary, reports on the courts, and promotes a legal enabling environment suitable for press freedom. Free and fair elections conducted through transparent processes require a media sector which gives candidates equal access, and reports the relevant issues in a timely, objective manner. Norris, (2006).
Most notably, Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has 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.” Norris, (2006).
The concept of “the media” is quite often used in the debate and literature on media and power, for example when discussing whether the media are a weak or a strong force in politics, whether the power of the media is increasing or decreasing, whether political institutions or the media are most powerful, and whether the media have primarily positive or negative effects on democracy. Scannell, (2007).
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