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 PRESENTED in Port Harcourt Rivers state on Monday February 4th 2019




The issue of national security is a fundamental issue in national and international discourses. It is in recognition of this fact that this paper explores the Nigerian perspective of how the operations of the mass media and the law may encroach into each other’s domain as well as the implication of such encroachment to national security.

The paper examines the set out issues against the backdrop of the feeling that one views the mass media and law as complementary sectors that could impinge on each other in the facilitation of the operations of other sectors of the polity. The operation of law affects and influences the way the mass media functions. In the same vein, the operations of the mass media equally affect and influence the operation of law in certain fundamental ways. Having examined the issue in focus, it argues that there is no notable conflict between the operation of the mass media and the law.

The mass media, by their pre-eminent position in national life, affect other sectors of national development. They are also affected and influenced in their functions by the operations of other sectors. It is against the backdrop of this feeling that one views the mass media and law as complementary sectors that impinge on each other in the facilitation of the operations of other sectors of the polity.

•      The operation of law affects and influences the way the mass media function. In the same vein, the operations of the mass media equally affect and influence the operation of law in certain fundamental ways.


•      The Mass Media

•      Several scholars have variously described the mass media as gadgets used to effect mass communication. For example, Defleur and Dennis (1981) define the mass media as “devices for moving messages across distance or time to accomplish mass communication.” The issue of application of the term “mass media” to technical devices is crucial to the understanding of the concept. In fact, the general acknowledgment of this conceptual fact of the mass media has resulted in the terse submission of Uyo (1987) that the mass media, being gadgets used to effect mass communication cannot be practiced.

According to him, it amounts to sheer “verbicide” to refer to anyone as a “media practitioner”, because one cannot practice gadgets. He likens the pejorative use of this term to such unthinkable expressions as a “teacher practicing blackboard” or “a doctor practicing stethoscope.” Thus, those involved in the operations of the mass media are gatekeepers who are responsible for the purveyance of information in the mass communication process. They are, therefore part of the mass media.


•      The law has been conceived in several ways, depending on each scholar’s perspective. Aigbovo (2000), list some of these definitions as follows:

•      Carl LiewellynWhat officials do about disputes. John AustinA command from a political superior to a political inferior backed up with sanctions for its violations.

•      Oliver Wendel HolmesThe prophecies of what the courts will do.

•      Sir Edward CokePerfection of reasoning.

•      Hans KelsenThe primary norm which stipulates the sanctions.

•      These definitions somewhat show the practical aspects of law in the sense that they focus on the operation of law. This has culminated in the emergence of various schools of thought representing the different groups of scholars who view law from the same perspective. Thus, we have positive law school, natural law school and utilitarian law school.

•      National Security

•      There is the erroneous equation of national security with territorial security. Nigeria today can boast of territorial security in the sense that it is fully protected against its neighbours who cannot dream of attacking Nigeria on their own. Such a move would be suicidal. But the country cannot place its national security on the same pedestal as its territorial security. Ekoko (2004) has classified the definitions of national security into two broad groups.

•      “The first is the military / strategic concept of security and the second (is), non-strategic socio-economic” Quoting the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, he eventually defines security as “the ability of a nation to protect its internal values from external threat”. It is in the light of this definition that AI-Mashat (1985) in Ekoko (2000) submits that national security transcends territorial defence and should focus on the physical, social and psychological quality of life of a society and its members, both in the domestic setting and within the larger regional and global setting.


•      The mass media function in various ways. However, the mass media’s basic function has to do with what Harold Lasswell defines as communication. That is, “to tell people, who says what in the society, to whom, when and how.” In carrying out this basic function, the mass media perform various tasks that have been classified into four functions by Wright (1960) and cited in Akindele and Lamidi (2001). These are:


•      Surveillance,

•      Correlation of facts of the environment,

•      Transmission of heritage, and

•      Entertainment.

•      The surveillance function involves mass media operators having to nose into the nooks and crannies of the society to fish out information that is of interest to the people. In correlation, the media act to mediate even the taste of the people because they interpret the information so gathered by sifting and discarding what may not be in the interest of the people before purveying such information to them. By such interpretation, they help to create values (for culture), which are then transmitted from generation to generation.


•      The law contributes to the perpetration of national security by ensuring that values are respected and protected. This it does by the creation of norms which guide human conduct. It must seek to punish any breach of values that may threaten national security. It must be noted that national security is about people whose minds need to be geared towards the defence of values that enhance their collective dignity, that would make them secure from external aggression. The result of such a situation is development.

•      The sacrosanct areas of law in this regard, are those that concern the dignity of man which, if fully protected, would enhance peace and progress in a nation. By this is meant Chapter Four of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), which is on fundamental rights. The chapter encapsulates Sections 33-46. The most relevant of these sections to this paper, is Section 39 –the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press. Sub Section I of this section states that:

•      “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.

•      The operation of the mass media is provided for by this section. And it is in the performance of their functions that the media collide with the law. It should be noted that Subsection 3 of the Section (39) provides for enactments that seek to punish aberrant use of the freedom so given in sub-section I.

•      Mass media operators are expected to operate within the confines of the laws guiding their operations without prejudice to section 39 of the 1999 constitution. Some of these laws include libel (encompassing seditious and blasphemous libel), breach of confidence, copyright, contempt of court, leaking of official secrets, invasion of privacy and so on.

•      National security appears to be the protection of government officials. And in pursuance of the realization of this security, media men are forbidden from purveying information that is at variance with the interests of those in power. This colonial view informed the colonial enactment entitled: The Seditious Offences Bill of 1909, which aimed at punishing “publications that were designed to inflame an excitable and ignorant populace” (Mytton 1983 in Ibagere 1996).

•      Implications for National Security

•      From the foregoing, it is clear that it is not the encroachment of law into the domain of mass media that has grave implications for national security. Neither is the encroachment of the mass media into the precincts of law as epitomized in violation that is the problem. The actual problem in the relation of both sectors lies with the despotic use of power and in the unbridled manipulation of the law to protect selfish primordial interests. This is why laws have been made with individuals in mind. The Buhari, Babangida and Abacha regimes made laws specifically to punish media organizations which published information that was not favourable to them. This development known as ad hominem law is repugnant to natural justice and good conscience.


•      The paper set out to explore the relationship between the mass media and the law. It focused on how the operation of the mass media impinges on the law and how the law is manipulated to encroach on media operations. These issues were examined including their implications for national security. Having examined the issue in focus, it is concluded that there is no notable conflict between the operation of the mass media and the law.

•      Purvey information with respect for human dignity. Such respect connotes the defence of national values.

•      Information dissemination should be done without malice against a perceived enemy, such that the intention is to embarrass the person.

•      The major aim of information dissemination should be to inform the people better and improve their lot.

•      Gatekeepers must have a sense of national security and seek to improve on it at all times. Thus, whatever does not enhance the perpetration or perpetuation of our established values should be discarded.

•      Gatekeepers must abide by the rule of law as well as the established ethics guiding their profession.

•      All laws that hinder the performance of the duty of gatekeeper should be repudiated. It is however fitting to end this piece by quoting the maxim of Pope Gringory XVI which says: “but if the truth causes a scandal, then let a scandal arise than the truth is abandoned. So go ahead, publish and broadcast it if it is the truth”.

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