In other words, the plaintiff in a defamation action may be required to expend a considerable amount of money to bring the action, may experience significant negative publicity which repeats the false accusations, and if unsuccessful in the litigation may cement into the public consciousness the belief that the defamatory accusations were true. While many plaintiffs will be able to successfully prosecute defamation actions, the possible downside should be considered when deciding whether or not such litigation should be attempted.
I give President Umaru Yar’Adua the benefit of the doubt that the reason he started this fight-back can’t tally with this democracy, and continued to handle national matters maturely, even if such report appeared mockery, God knows what goes to who tomorrow. I do not assume, as others write, that he revolted for political reasons, if not pushed to the wall.. But even if Mr. president does fought-back for political reasons of some sort, I would be willing in that case to assume that his official assignment is to liberalize fellow Nigerians, from their ignorance, whereas mercy could tamper justice, not to support distractors agenda.
Based on this, I reject these state security attaché’s question as based on false premises. President Yar’Adua’s purpose wasn’t to get something; it was to get a national dose of civilian democracy. If I am right, then the management of the leadership-newspapers and the contributing writers of this libel-headline should apologize and retract their stories.
Roosevelt’s desire to control communication with the public is symbolic of a peculiarly American dilemma: how to speak directly to the American people in times of war, national emergency, and crisis. Journalists — then as now — interpret the government’s actions and words. The American media system, in which the press receives constitutional protection and private, independent broadcasters operate as government licensees, was designed to create an unofficial auditing system for government communication. In 1941, America was singular in structuring its communications sphere in this manner; today, the majority of people in the world still live without an independent media.
Too often we in the United States forget the radical, even revolutionary implications of our media system. It trusts an essentially indefinable group of people (”the press”) to serve the public interest by interposing itself between political authority and the citizenry. The concept of a government pledged to protect independent reporting on its own behavior remains subversive to most authorities around the globe.
The conversations held in Roosevelt’s White House are clearly relevant to today’s climate of press-government tension. Just as Roosevelt, in a 1942 fireside chat, inveighed against ”the typewriter strategists who expound their views in the press or on the radio,” the Yar’Adua administration fumes over reporting it considers inaccurate, unrepresentative of reality, and antagonistic. The current administration continues to develop multiple strategies to connect directly with people — whether in the Zimbabwe, Nigeria, or elsewhere. The recent furor over payments to foreign journalists in exchange for publication of Nigeria government-authorized news accounts attests to a level of desperation. This administration’s recurrent attempts at direct communication demonstrate an intention to subvert the purpose of the First Amendment.
If Mr. President continues to remain embittered about this fake-report against his personae, democracy will continue to remain battered as long as his regime lingers. I have no problem with them saying something like, I’m a Nigerian, my values are rooted in Nigerian values, its part of which I am, I respect others who aren’t Nigerians or blacks, and if these men are chided and loosed, there could be another hope to uphold the dignity of every Nigerian beyond the 1999 Constitution. What is the problem here?
Felons are asking President Yar’Adua for pardons and commutations at historic levels as he nears his rule of law fundamentals, a situation where many other presidents have granted a flurry of clemency requests. There are many who believe that it is time to consider new approaches to criminal prosecution and sentencing, to reduce our reliance on incarceration and end the tribal disparities resulting from our law enforcement practices. If the pardon power is to play a useful role in this law reform effort, as it has in past eras, public confidence in it must be restored. The criteria that presently exist in the legal policies are perfectly good ones. What needs improvement is the perceived fairness of the pardon process which that leadership-newspaper company needed, the regularity and frequency of pardon grants, and above all the president’s commitment to using the power in an intentional and generous fashion.
But the government is not acting in a vacuum. It is reacting to a media environment marked by enormous hostility. Skepticism is healthy, but too many journalists practice reporting informed by a pessimistic cynicism. This corrosive attitude is damaging the news industry; newspaper circulation and TV news viewer-ship continue to decline.
The tension between the press and the government has hypertrophied to the point that neither is acting in the public interest. It is time for these two adversaries to discuss the patterns of behavior creating such rancor and frustration. Both sides must be willing to exchange and recognize legitimate criticism in an open forum. Grievances may not be easily resolved. But discussion in the spirit of inquiry rather than recrimination will initiate a more constructive relationship.
This is not to say that the press must abandon the critical skepticism that informs its watchdog role; nor that should the government stop promoting efforts to reach citizens directly. But the mutual antagonism has confused and angered the public. It’s a troubling situation, bad for both democratic governance and the news industry. But the real loser is the constituency that both claim to be serving: the Nigerian people.