Can the populace be denying of receiving information from some media organizations?

The freedom of the press to impart information would be useless without a corresponding right of the members of the public to receive such information. People have a right to information from the generally accessible sources like the radio, newspapers, television, online media, museums, libraries and so on.

 

Are there limitations to freedom of expression and the press

As fundamental as the right to freedom of expression, it is not and cannot be absolute. The limitations have been listed below:

  1. State Privilege

This is said to be “the right of the state through its agents or functionaries to withhold evidence which it considers could, if revealed in open court, adversely affect the public interest.”[1] Evidence Act prohibit disclosure of unpublished official documents except with the permission of the head of the department concerned;[2] disclosure of communication made in official confidence when considered not in public interest;[3] production of documents in the possession of a public officer which may any other person would be entitled to refuse to produce if in his possession unless such a person consents.[4]

  1. Official Secret
  • Contempt of Court

In the course of the administration of justice by the courts there is no doubt about the need to ensure improper interference and obstruction[5]. Contempt can be civil or criminal. Criminal contempt as it applies to the freedom of expression involves actions that can interfere with the administration of justice. Contempt proceeding is usually invoked here for deterrent and punishment. Our media practitioners should avoid:

  1. Publications prejudicial to a fair criminal trial;
  2. Publications prejudicial to a fair civil trial;
  3. Scandalizing the court;
  4. Contempt in the face of the court;
  5. Acts which interfere with the course of justice.
  6. Obscene and harmful publications

The major restriction of obscene and harmful publications is in the interest of public morality. Forms of obscene publication include pornography, erotic realism, and other erotica.

  1. Defamation:

Defamation can be a statement which reflects on person’s reputation and tends to lower him in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society generally or tends to make them shun or avoid him. [6] It is defamatory when the publication tends:

  1. To lower the person in the estimation of right thinking members of the society generally; or
  2. To expose him to hatred, ridicule or contempt; or
  3. To make others shun or avoid him; or
  4. To discredit him in his office, grade or profession; or
  5. To injure his financial credit.

Kindly note, that defamation can be civil and criminal in nature. Criminal defamation as enshrined in the criminal code provides that:

…matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.[7]

Before any person can raise defamation issue, the following must have happened:

  1. The words must be defamatory;
  2. The words must refer to the person challenging defamation
  3. The words must be published.

Kindly note that defamation can occur either in libel, which is publication of defamatory statement in permanent form such as in print, online or in written form. It can also be a slander, which can be spoken words, conduct or other translator form.

 

Finally, generally under the law of tort, justification is a defence to defamation. If the words complained of were true in substance, it is a complete defence in a defamation action.

 

[1] Osibajo & Fogam, Nigerian Media Law, p. 150

[2] Section 166 of the Evidence Act

[3] Section 166 of the Evidence Act

[4] Section 167 of the Evidence Act

[5] See Osinbajo and Forgam, op cit, under Limitation to the right of freedom of expression

[6] Winfield & Jolowicz on Tort, Swet & Maxwell, 1984, 12th ed. P. 293

[7] Section 373 of the Criminal code

My freedom of religion

Because of the highly subjective nature of religious belief, the courts have generally rejected the idea of an inquiry into the truth or falsity of beliefs claimed to be religious, stating that there is no heresy in law.[1]

Justice Ayoola of the Supreme Court of Nigeria while stating the scope of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion many years ago implied a right not to be prevented, without lawful justification, from choosing the course of one’s life, fashioned on what one believes in, and a right not to be coerced into acting contrary to one’s religious belief. The limits of these freedoms, as in all cases, are when they impinge on the rights of others or where they put the welfare of society or public health in jeopardy.[2]

[1] Church of the New Faith v. Commissioner of Pay Roll Tax (1983) 57 ALJR 785

[2] Medical and Dental Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal v. Okonkwo (2001) 10 WRN 1 SC at 41

Do I have the right to change my religion or belief?

The constitution empowers anyone who so desire to change his/ her religion or belief. See section 38 of the 1999 Constitution

Can I manifest and propagate my religion?

Yes. Every citizen can propagate his/her religion which include the manifestation of religion in practice, worship, teaching and observance as including ceremonial acts, customs as the observance of dietary rights, the wearing of distinctive clothing, head coverings, the use of particular language customarily spoken by the group.[1]

Kindly note that the right to manifest religion would also cover issues such as dressing, mode of worship, and so on as long as it is not coercive and does not affect the rights of others.

[1] Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights C.C PR/C/21/Rev:1Add 4 adopted July 20 1993, reprinted in HRLJ 15. (1994)

Can churches/mosques propagate religions by establishing schools?

Section 38(3) provides:

No religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any place of education maintained wholly by that community or denomination.

Under the provision, religious institutions are empowered to give religious instructions in schools established by them, which indirectly empowers them to establish schools. The court so many years ago once declared unconstitutional a circular which purported to indicate that only public schools can operate in Lagos state.[1]

 

[1] Adewole v. Jakande (1981) 1 NCLR 262; See also Okogie (Arch Bishop) v. Attorney General Lagos State (1981) 1 NCLR

Since I have right to freedom of thought, religion and belief, why can’t I be a member of a secret society?

Membership of a secret court is criminalized in Nigeria.

Section38(4) provides:

Nothing in this section shall entitle any person to form, take part in or be a member of a secret society.

The implication of the provision above is that a secret society is not regarded as a religion and does not entitle a person to claim the freedom of thought, conscience or religion’s right.