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could, if revealed in open court, adversely affect the public interest.”[1] Evidence Act prohibit disclosure of unpublished official documents except with the permission of the head of the department concerned;[2] disclosure of communication made in official confidence when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

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.


The proprietors and journalists including bloggers have the right to impart information gathered to members of the public. This freedom ‘to impart’ is expressly enshrined under section 39 of the constitution.

The term press freedom embraces also an unrestrained right of newsmen to gather information as it is incidental to the freedom of the press as a result of their constitutional rights to receive ideas without interference.

Interestingly, this issue has been contested in the court. The court held in the case of Oyegbemi and Others v. Attorney-General of the Federation among others that:

No person, be he an editor, reporter or publisher of newspaper can be compelled to disclose his

source of information for any matter published by that person and non-disclosure cannot be

contempt of court. This is subject to interest of justice, national security, public safety, order,

morality, welfare of persons or prevention of disorder or crime. Consequently, the right to withhold information is like all other freedoms, not absolute.


Though the word press is not expressly mentioned in the grant of the freedom of expression, but is written in the marginal notes which has been said not to form part of the provisions, but are merely for convenience of reference[1].  Such right without extension to freedom of the Press would however be meaningless.

The importance of the press is further emphasized under the provisions of section 22 of the Constitution which provides:


The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.


Kindly note that the scope of freedom of expression covers new media such as Blogging/ online radio/ online Tv among other E-platform that hold opinion, receive and impart ideas and information.

Through the press, corruption, abuse of office and other official misconduct can be publicly exposed, and this may in itself serve as a deterrent against official misconduct.

[1] Adewole v. Jakande (1981) 1 NCLR 262; See Section 3 of the Interpretation Act. (1964) (No.1)

This freedom belongs to the prospective proprietor of the press. Private Citizen can desire to own a Television station; radio and Newspapers but must meet the requirements of government approval before he/she can be licensed to operate such medium.


  • Introduction

Freedom of expression and the press is very important and fundamental to the development of a civilized society. Freedom of expression has been seen as a pre-condition to the realization of other rights, the violation of which are made known by expression.

The importance of this right is provided for in many international, regional and national instruments/laws. It is necessary for the participation of people in the decision-making process. The present of the international court on human rights remarked that:

“Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon with the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. It is also a condition sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade unions and scientific and cultural societies and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents in short, the means that enables the community, when expressing its opinion, to be sufficiently informed. It is the condition of social life that allows members of the society to reach the highest level of personal development and the optimum achievement of democratic values.[1]


Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:

  • Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.
  • Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, every person shall be entitled to own, establish and operate any medium for the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.

Provided that no person, other than the Government of the Federation or of a State or any other person or body authorized by the President on the fulfillment of conditions laid down by an Act of the National Assembly, shall own, establish or operate a television or wireless broadcasting station for any purpose whatsoever.


Generally, freedom of expression includes the freedom by every person to:

  1. hold opinions
  2. Receive and impart information and ideas
  • Orally, in writing, in print, art from through the media and other mediums. It is generally recognized that the rights may be restricted in the interest of others and the society[2] in which we provided under the “Limitations to freedom of expression and the press”.


[1] Advisory opinion OC 5/85 8 EHRR, 18 (1985)

[2] Kehinde M. Mowoe, Constitutional law in Nigeria 2018 Malthouse Law Books