A Brief Comparative Analysis Of Press Freedom In Nigeria And Ghana

By Olorunyomi Pauline

A free press is the cornerstone of a democratic[6]  society, and respect for the freedom of expression and the right of the public to access and receive information are the yardsticks to evaluate the existence of the rule of law and, ultimately, popular democracy.

Ghana and Nigeria were colonised by Britain. Although they gained independence at different times[1], they have a lot of things in common. However, the concept of a free press is relatively functional from one nation to another because of the differences in cultural, social, political, and economic orientations. This makes a comparative study (of press freedom) in Ghana and Nigeria suitable and interesting.

In Ghana, provisions for the freedom and independence of the press are clearly stated in chapter twelve, article 162 of the 1992 fourth republican constitution of Ghana. Clause one states explicitly that;

“freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed .“ Then clause two states that, ‘subject to this constitution and any other law not inconsistent with this Constitution there shall be no censorship in Ghana. Clause three adds that “there shall be no impediments to the establishment of private press or media; and in particular, there be no law requiring any person to obtain a license as a prerequisite to the establishment or operation of a newspaper, journal or other media for mass communication or information.” The fourth clause of article 162 provides that; “ editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or interference by government, nor shall they be penalized or harassed for their editorial opinions and views or the content of their publications.’’ The fifth clause adds that “ all agencies of the media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people of Ghana. Then the sixth and final clause of this article states that any medium for the dissemination of information to the public which publishes a statement about or against any person shall be obliged to publish a rejoinder, if any, from the person in respect of whom the publication was made.

From these provisions, it is clear that the constitution, to a very large extent, safeguards the freedom and independence of the press in Ghana.

In Nigeria, on the other hand, there is still no clear constitutional and justiciable provision for the protection of the press to carry out its constitutional obligations without interference, threats to life, or extra-judicial repercussions.

Section 22 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides for the obligation of the mass media by stating that: The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.

However, this section is not justiciable. It neither empowers nor protects the media to discharge its duty, as journalists or lawyers cannot cite any provision of that chapter as a defence in litigations on matters pertaining to publications or broadcast.[2]

Section 39 of the constitution also provides for the right to freedom of expression and the press. It states that:

(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the 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 of information, ideas and opinions:

However, there is a proviso to section 39 (2), which remains a clog in the wheel of progress. It prohibits anyone from owning, establishing or operating a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever without the permission of a government official. As against the situation in Ghana, this provision is a major factor limiting the freedom of the press in Nigeria.

These provisions reveal the need for the successful reform of the legal framework for press freedom in Nigeria in order to inspire good practices guided by clear, predictable legal principles and enforcement.

West Africa is making mixed progress on press freedom, access to information and the development of a pluralistic media landscape. According to the World Press Freedom Index, the level of media freedom is categorised as “fairly good” in three West African countries, namely Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde and Ghana. Owing to the reforming of the legal frameworks guaranteeing freedom of expression and access to information. At the index’s bottom end, Chad, Mali and Nigeria still face serious challenges related to the safety of journalists and censorship. Abductions, arbitrary detentions, the closure of radio stations and Internet restrictions continue to hinder the freedom of expression and the public’s right to information in Nigeria.

For the sake of democracy, freedom of the press is a right that every entity in society must care about and commit to protecting. Therefore, both countries still have work to ensure that  the press stays free and flourishing; by enacting and implementing legislation that protects journalists

[1] 1992 and 1999, respectively

[2] The section is not justiciable