Media and Religious Censorship in Nigeria
A free press is critical to the growth and development of any society and to the survival and vibrancy of any democracy. Nigeria is said to have a free and independent media, and this is often interpreted to mean that, in Nigeria, journalists are going about their work without state interference. For me, this is a narrow understanding of freedom of the press, and this one-sided view has caused many to mischaracterize the situation of the media in the country. The government is just one out of many agents or actors that could undermine or muzzle the press. Religious agencies, drug cartels, multinationals and other business interests can hamper freedom of the press in a country.
Today, many people tend to think that in Nigeria, there is freedom of the press. But in actual fact there is not. In this piece I would like to point out a very disturbing trend in the Nigerian media: religious censorship. Religious censorship is very pronounced in the print and electronic media in the country. By this I mean that, today in Nigeria, there are views and reports that cannot be published or broadcast in the media because of religious sentiments, because such reports or perspectives are deemed to be offensive to the religious sensibilities of the faithful.
In principle, media agencies in Nigeria claim to be objective, factual and balanced in their reporting. They claim to embody ethical and professional journalism. But in practice this is not the case, particularly when it comes to religious issues.
In most cases, media agencies in Nigeria are biased, unethical and unprofessional in their reporting. Many of what we have as national newspapers – both privately and state owned – are in fact religious – Christian or Islamic or ‘chrislamic’ dalies whose ‘unwritten policy’ is to further these religious interests. Very often the newspapers do not reflect the diversity of views, opinions and perspectives in terms of religious belief and unbelief. Their news, reports and opinions are biased towards religions – Christianity and Islam only. Every week, most media agencies in the country devote a lot of time and space to mainly Christian and religious prayers, preaching and propagation. Most radio and television stations start their daily broadcast with Christian and/or Islamic prayers, devotions and reflections. Meanwhile such opportunities are not extended to those who profess other faiths or none. Still media agencies claim to be free, fair, impartial and objective in their reporting and publications.
Most media houses in Nigeria do not publish or broadcast views that are critical of religious doctrines particularly Christian and Islamic dogmas. So where is the objectivity, ethical and professional journalism when the perspectives of those who hold contrary opinions or those who belong to religious minorities or those who profess no faith are completely shut out or censored?
Some of our so-called state and privately owned newspapers, television and radio stations in Northern Nigeria only publish or broadcast Islamic or pro-Islam teachings and preaching. They do not approve the publication or broadcast of a perspective that is critical of Islam. And no one dares question this outrageous media policy.
Also in Southern Nigeria, there are some state or privately owned newspapers, radio and television stations that only publish or broadcast Christian or pro-Christian news and reports. Any report other than or critical of Christianity, no matter how factual and objective it is, will not be approved by the editorial or management team. Some of the radio and television stations in South East and South South are as good as the Vatican radio. They are Christian media outfits. One of the main reasons for religious censorship in the media is because our media agencies are owned or managed by Christian and Islamic fanatics who use their public offices or private businesses to promote their faiths. They regard their jobs, offices and businesses as tools of evangelism, jihad and religious propaganda. Their media agencies are extensions of their churches and mosques.
Also our media houses are populated with mostly journalists who double as priests, pastors, imams and Ustaz. And as those supposedly called by God or Allah, they do not want to report or be seen to be reporting or publishing anything critical or contrary to their faiths. They use their ‘pen’ or talents to defend their faith and further the cause of God or Allah.
Religious censorship is not good for our media and for the development of the country, particularly in this age of information technology. Some of the views which our electronic and print media houses suppress or censor get published any way. Many people who cannot have their religious or non-religious views published in the mainstream media, can now post or publish them on the internet. So media houses that practice religious censorship risk losing their credibility and market as a source of objective and reliable information.
In conclusion, Nigeria is a country whose democracy, peace, security and development is threatened by religious fundamentalism. Since independence, Nigeria has witnessed protracted religious crises mainly in Northern Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives to religious riots. And recently an Islamist group, Boko Haram, launched a violent campaign against the government and state agencies. The members have carried out attacks on public places including the Force Headquarters in Abuja and have killed many security agents and civilians.
Nigerians need a free and uncensored media to safeguard their democracy and combat the dark and destructive influence of religions. The media agencies in the country must do away with religious censorship in other to generate ideas and reliable information which the state and its citizens need to tackle and address the menace of religious fanaticism and other faith-based problems.