People reading newspapers
People reading newspapers

INTERNATIONALLY, the right to free speech was addressed in article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Born of the horrors of World War 2 atrocities, the UN declaration continues to this day to act as a beacon of hope for freedom and rights advocacy groups across the globe. However, it has no legally binding status in international law. Internationally, only 73 of 194 nations surveyed in 2005 were rated as having a truly free press.
As important as free speech is to a democracy, some controls are necessary. A society requires a boundary against some types of information. Put simply, words (and images) can hurt. This is well captured in the French National declaration of Rights of man and of citizens, ‘… the free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law,
People and the government that serve them require protection under the law from news that hurt. Protection in the form of censorship against such harmful news is considered necessary by most people as a practical measure. Laws that protect people and the government, however, also act to suppress free speech in the form of censorship as ‘official prohibition or restriction of any type of expression believed to threaten the political, social, or moral order. It may be imposed by government authority, local or national, by a religious body, or occasionally by a powerful private group. It may be applied to the mails, speech, the press, the theater, dance, art, literature, photography, the cinema, radio, television, or computer networks. Censorship may be either preventive or punitive, according to whether it is exercised before or after the expression has been made public’.
But censorship strikes against the very ideals and safeguards that make democracies work in the first place. This raises a number of very important questions. Where does news of terrorism lie within the bounds of free speech and censorship? Is the news of terrorism actually harmful to society? If so, why do media report it? Is it bad enough to warrant forfeiting society’s right to know? Who would make that determination? What alternatives exist? A rational policy regarding the media’s role concerning terrorism must address these issues.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan signed into law the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, awaited for 12 years by press and citizens alike. This shows the commitment of the Federal government in terms of ensuring a more transparent system of governance in the country. The House of Representatives passed the Bill on February 24, 2011 and the Senate dialed up integrity on March 16, 2011 as it delivered on promise to pass it. The harmonized version was passed by both Chambers on May 26, 2011. It was conveyed to the President on May 27, and he signed it on May 28, 2011.
Relating to security issues, the Freedom of Information Act contains exemptions which are under section 11 and section 12. They are as follows;
• Section 11 (1) “A public institution may deny an application for any information the disclosure of which may be injurious to the conduct of international Affairs and the defence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”
• Section 11(2) “Notwithstanding subsection (1), an application for information shall not be denied where the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs whatever injury that disclosure would cause”
Section 12 (1) A public institution may deny an application for any information which contains records compiled by any public institution for administrative enforcement proceedings and by any law enforcement or correctional agency for law enforcement purposes or for internal matters of a public institution, but only to the extent that disclosure would.
• Interfere with pending or actual and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement or correctional agency.
• Interfere with pending administrative enforcement proceedings conducted by any public institution.
• Deprive a person of a fair trial or an impartial hearing.
• Unavoidably disclose the identity of a confidential source.
• Constitute an invasion of personal privacy under Section 15 of this Act, except, where the interest of the public would be better served by having such record being made available, this exemption to disclosure shall not apply, and
• Obstruct an on-going criminal investigation.
• Information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the security of penal institutions.
Section 12 (2) notwithstanding anything contained in this section, an application for information shall not be denied where the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs whatever injury that disclosure would cause.
Section 12 (3) A public institution may deny an application for information that could reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an offence.
Section 12 (4) for the purpose of section (1) (a), “enforcement proceeding” means an investigation that
• Pertains to the administration or enforcement of any Act, law or regulation;
• Is authorized by or pursuant to any Act, law or regulation.
The two sections above demonstrate the exemptions by which the Freedom of Information Act can be applied. Despite these limits to Information access in Nigeria, the Federal Government has ensured that every security agency has a spokesperson who issue out statements regarding matters of public interest. This also signifies the importance of the media when it comes to keeping the public informed, asking questions where necessary and protecting the public right to know.
Equally significant in Section 28 which seeks to create a balance between the need to protect information and the public right to know.
(1) The fact that any information in the custody of a public institution is kept by that institution under security classification or is classified document within the meaning of the Official Secret Act does not preclude it from being disclosed pursuant to an application for disclosure thereof under the provisions of this act, but in every case the public institution to which the application is made shall decide whether such information is of a type referred to in sections 11,12,14,15,16,17,19,20 or2l of this act.
See also section 27 for the protection of public servants in the discharge of their duties under this act and for those who may receive information.
Accepting such an invitation to come and speak here today is one of many ways the Office of the National Security Adviser is leveraging to ensure a better relationship between the security agencies and the press. It is also important to note that the NSA understands and appreciates the need for such a vital relationship, with the current insurgency in parts of Nigeria.
News of Terrorism and why it is harmful
It is important to explore why the news of terrorism is newsworthy. Both murder and terrorism are newsworthy, yet news of terrorism grabs headlines out of proportion. What is it about terrorism that makes it so newsworthy?