PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE,
SENATOR ANYIM PIUS ANYIM, GCON
THE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
THE NEWSPAPER PROPRIETORS’ ASSOCIATION
OF NIGERIA (NPAN)
THIS DAY, MARCH 2, 2002.
I am delighted to be in your midst tonight on this grand occasion of the Annual General Meeting of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN). It is to me both an honour and a privilege especially when I see the array of accomplished men and women that constitute the membership of this monumental body.
I must not fail to thank the organizers for inviting me as Special Guest of Honour of these men and women whose fiery pens and seminal analyses and essays did not only help to edge out the colonialists but have also helped to sustain Nigeria as one indivisible country peopled by men and women of diverse tongues but one destiny.
My joy is further magnified by the theme of this year’s AGM which is Media, Democracy and Development. For at this time of our national life, it has become expedient for us to re-evaluate the role of, and challenges before the media in a growing democracy such as ours. We have seen the media play an advocacy role in the pre-Independence era. I commend this. We have seen the media play the role of opposition at very great risk during military regimes. I salute your courage.
But now that both the colonial masters and the military have been removed from the scene, I would like to see the media assume a different role. This, to me, is the challenge before everyone here present, especially members of this august body. How do we reposition the media to play the role of a partner in this onerous task of nation-building in a democratic environment?
Should the media continue in their advocacy role in the manner they did before independence? Should they take the position of an unbowing opposition as we had them act during the military regimes? Or should they seek a common ground between these two extremes – acting as a dispassionate umpire, a constructive critic guided by the high ideals of national unity, national peace and national progress? I think the third option will be the best option for the nation’s contemporary media.
No doubt, it is the duty of the media anywhere in the world to criticize, to act as a check and balance tool and to proffer solution where necessary. I have seen the Nigerian media discharge these functions creditably. Right from 1859 when Anglican Missionary Henry Townsend founded the first newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe Irohin, in the ancient city of Abeokuta, we have seen the media play diverse roles with each role being a direct reflection of the nature of the government in power.
At this juncture, ladies and gentlemen, I must particularly thank the media for their roles in wresting power from the military. You displayed courage in the face of death. At the risk of losing your jobs when newspapers were being proscribed, you stood your ground. Some of you were thrown behind bars on trumped up charges. But I have good news for you.
Those days are gone and you will not see them any more. This administration, this
democratic government needs your input as partners. Yesterday, it was the military but they have gone for good. Today, it is democracy. And we need to sustain this democracy for our children tomorrow. Please, let’s work together.
Yes I agree. And this is true. There are some practitioners within your fold who publish fiction for facts, stultify and distort truth to suit their whims and caprices. But we must not throw away the baby with the bath water. Every government, especially a democratic government, needs the media. I am sometimes pained by the kind of falsehood I see in newspapers and magazines. But some other times, my spirit is lifted by the scholarly and mature analyses published by some of you.
This has, unfortunately, become the norm such that I often find myself in the same dilemma as Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States who once wondered: “Were it left for me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”
I wholly agree with Jefferson that the media have a role to play in governance, in nation-building and in character moulding. But I must stress that we need both the government and the media. We must co-exist. We must complement each other. We must achieve a synergy with the ultimate goal of raising governance and information dissemination beyond the frontiers of retrogressive primordial sentiments. Again, ladies and gentlemen, let’s work together.
We at the National Assembly believe we can partner with the media. We believe we can tap into the rich repository of knowledge of the media practitioners. We believe, as law-makers, that information flow should not and must not be encumbered by whatever means. And I want to assure you that we are more than ever committed to legislating against anything that will impede your access to information.
As lawmakers, we stand by the UN Declaration of December 14, 1946 that “freedom of information is a fundamental human right and it is the touchstone of all freedoms to which the UN is consecrated”. In the Senate, particularly, we are consecrated to this. We are committed to it. And we are determined to legislate against anything that would undermine this. Today, we will stand by you because yesterday you stood by the rest of us against the military and sundry undemocratic forces. Again, I say, we will stand by you.
I have no doubt in my mind that everybody here has a clear idea of the roles of the media in a democracy. Such roles become even more exigent at this time when our young democracy is being threatened by diverse crises including ethno-religious crisis in some parts of the country, bomb explosions in Lagos and general insecurity.
This is the challenge I am throwing back at you. Use your investigative dexterity to unravel the brains behind these invidious acts. They may be Nigerians, but they are not friends of Nigeria. They may claim to be statesmen, but they do not love this state more than you and I. This is why we must seek them out and prosecute them. We need you to do this. I know I have your support. In the same manner you fought hard to secure victory for democracy, we must fight even harder to sustain this democracy.
Today, I am emboldened by the fact that we have in this country the most courageous media in any developing country. I am encouraged by the maturity exhibited by some of you in handling certain sensitive issues that would otherwise have inflated an already inflamed polity.
But I must say that sometimes, some of you have fallen short of the ethical demands of this noble calling. My immediate inquiries showed that poor and
irregular remuneration are the cardinal reasons why ethics and standards are
thrown over board. As proprietors of newspapers and magazines, as managers of human resources in this Fourth Estate of the Realm, I urge you tonight to look into the issue of remuneration for the journalists. They take high risks.
They bear the cross of society. They deserve better pay. For if they are well paid, they will become more dispassionate in their duties and society will be the better for it. I trust that you will look into this issue of remuneration with a high sense of seriousness.
I thank you once again for honouring me with your invitation. I wish you a fruitful AGM. Thank you.