November 16, 2008

Blame in the Blogosphere: When Fundamental Freedoms are under Fire

In the United States, our news media is fortunately uncensored, which encourages citizens to express their opinions openly and honestly. While there have been incidents of abuse concerning the freedoms of speech and press, most recently perceptible in the harsh critique of certain candidates campaigning in the U.S. presidential elections, these rights are fundamentally part and parcel of a democracy. These intrinsic liberties have become particularly powerful in the realm of the blogosphere, which has become a forum for the flow of ideas, concerns, and discourse not only within the United States but also on an international level as well. The blogosphere is undeniably less reliable in terms of non-partisan news delivery, and one must take each post with a grain of salt, as they are often saturated with biased viewpoints and opinions. In spite of a few minor pitfalls surrounding a free media, its emancipated existence is crucial for discussion and self-expression. Unfortunately, these democratic principles are not globally enforced, and even countries that do include these freedoms in their constitutions often violate them when it is to their benefit. A good example of the repression of promulgated rights is discussed in two Nigerians' blogs concerning recent events in both the Nigerian blogosphere and "free" media. The first, from PBS's World View Blog, is a post entitled "Nigeria Joins List of Countries Harassing Bloggers," in which Sokari Ekine discusses the recent arrest of Nigerian bloggers Jonathon Elendu and Emeka Asiwe, and the implications of these incidents in regards to the government's relationship with the media. Nigerian Curiosity, a blog by Solomon Sydelle, raised similar concerns about Nigerian President Yar'Adua's relationship with the press in his post "Yar'Adua to Sue Nigerian Newspaper." Both entries demonstrate how these relatively self-contained incidents could have disastrous effects on the country, further de-legitimizing an already unstable regime of governance.

"Nigeria Joins List of Countries Harassing Bloggers"

Sokari, thank you for addressing such a salient issue that was in need of proper attention. I appreciated the integrity of your post, and the wide base of evidence you incorporated to support your argumentative viewpoint. It seems that the Nigerian government and particularly President Yar'Adua need to practice what they preach and uphold the values they communicate. While it is encouraging that President Yar'Adua declared a commitment to upholding an unrestricted press, his actions concerning the arrest of Jonathon Elendu and Emeka Asiwe dictate the opposite, which makes one wonder if he is truly committed to ensuring that liberty. This disconnect in parlance and performance is especially pertinent in a country such as Nigeria, which has struggled to achieve a true democracy after independence in 1960, and has been burdened with an unfortunate history of cyclic corruption within the government. Intentionally or not, Yar'Adua has further undermined his position as president with the detention of these two bloggers without an explanation as to the crimes behind the two arrests. On the other hand, I find that a president should not be subject to unprecedented attacks or misinformation surrounding his actions as head of state. The arrests have already exacerbated public suspicion on his commitment to freedom of speech and of press.

Additionally, I think the detail you highlighted concerning the widespread anonymity of Nigerians in the blogosphere is also indicative of their fear concerning freedom of expression, particularly when one takes into consideration the "the history of media censorship in Nigeria" and its infringement on fundamental human liberties. Do you think that if the president had provided an initial reason for these arrests the public would have had a different response to his actions? Conversely, is their any merit to Elendu or Asiwe's arrest, or is it purely an infringement on rights clearly defined by the Nigerian constitution? Is the Nigerian media a reliable and credible source of information, or has it been affected by years of inconsistent censorship? Is it possible the bloggers in question were intentionally publishing false or malicious script in an attempt to punish the government's wrongful treatment of, among many things, the media? I would appreciate your insight regarding these subsequent inquiries, as your post demonstrates a high level of intimate knowledge and concern for Nigerian politics.

“Yar’Adua to Sue Nigerian Newspaper”

Solomon, thank you for such an intelligible and thoughtful post. As I have recently just begun to tackle the complex history of Nigerian politics and systems of government post-independence, your blog was particularly useful in terms of more recent administrative events. I appreciated and agreed with your assertion that "Yar'Adua has every right to sue anyone who defames him or his character," especially because Leadership Newspaper has admitted that its article "was not entirely factual." I also sympathize with his attempted action to rectify the misinformation published about him, as it was relevant to his capabilities as a leader. Although the public appearances in question pale in comparison to the country's insurmountable structural issues and internal conflict, had he countered the initial suspicions surrounding his health, his honesty would have reinforced his legitimacy as president. However, in light of the two recent arrests of Jonathon Elendu and Emeka Asiwe, whose convoluted crimes remain highly debated, this law suit unfortunately further clouds his commitment to a free and unadulterated media. While the president says he "fully believes that a free and unfettered press is essential to the growth and entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria," his recent actions seem to dictate otherwise.

Furthermore, I have a few remaining inquiries that I would like for you to consider. Is Yar'Adua's health a potentially large issue for the country? Could the newspapers actually be attacking Yar'Adua's government purposefully to destabilize support for his regime? If so, would this be a result of internal divisions and mistrust for governance among the Nigerian population? Additionally, how do you think Yar'Adua would react to the United States media and their portrayal of politicians? Particularly with the recent US presidential elections, would he consider the coverage concerning the presidential and vice-presidential candidates to be malicious misinformation, or an expression of fundamental rights that encourage democratic elections and governance? Moreover, I would appreciate if you could elaborate on the statement you made in response to Olusegun Adeniyi's accusation of the newspaper's deliberate attempt to destabilize the current administration with the attacks on President Yar'Adua. What were some of the other occasions when Yar'Adua "accused others of trying to undermine the government?" Were they also involving the press, and what were his reactions to these other attacks? With your insight and knowledge on these matters of Nigerian governance displayed so passionately in this post, I would appreciate your response and interpretation concerning these additional concerns.

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