April 1992, The African Ministers of information meeting held in Abuja,
Nigeria, called for increased efforts towards creating the necessary condition
for the promotion of pluralistic media in the continent.
They also adopted a resolution stating that there can be no democracy without a free media. A free press along with an independent Judiciary is essential for the protection of human rights in a democratic society.
Public official must be held accountable for their actions and a free press is the people’s watchdog. The press must be free to investigate and to publish what it finds true even if it embarrasses or hurts the career of powerful figures in or out of office.
A free press along with an independent Judiciary stands guard against abuses of human rights, preventing them whenever possible and exposing them whenever they occur.
The journalists therefore should not sell their souls to the devil however lucrative the price may be, as the end results will be consigned to the dustbins of history.
The role of the press in democratic Africa has during the past two decades aroused much attention. In The Gambia where the brutal murder of the Editor and Co-proprietor of The Point newspaper the late Deyda Hydara (May his blessed soul rest in perfect peace), which was met with world condemnation, gave ample reasons to arouse world attention to focus on the plight of journalists.
The press in Africa has endeavoured through the years to persistently continue to play the role of a watchdog and also a creator of directions for the common good.
Without doubt newspapers play a significant part in informing and forming public opinion. It is awareness of this significant role of the press that has made it necessary for the press to evolve into a responsible arm of governance and society.
Freedom of speech and thought is a right that the press has consistently defended in all circumstances. It is a right that the press persistently guards with responsibility. The role of the press is to protect intellectual freedom of all civil liberties of which the most priced is the liberty of thought and expression. It is this institutional role of the press that has earned it the name of Fourth Estate.
The press must hold the deep conviction that all opinions even erroneous should have freedom of expression. Not frequently have opinions commonly held to be false, proved to be true.
Furthermore in the conflict between opinions even error serves a useful purpose in that it stimulates truth to fortify itself.
For this reason, the press has always defended the freedom of expression as a primary requisite for the peaceful progress of human kind.
As the venerated justice Oliver Wendel Holmes once declared on intellectual freedom: “The ultimate good desired is better reached by the free trade in ideas that the best of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition and that truth is the only ground upon which human wishes can safely be carried out.”
Author: Alhaji Ngang Demba Thomas is a veteran journalist