The authors of this bill should know that the media play indispensable roles in political participation, which democracy is all about.
In the 1960s, late American political scientist, Gabriel Almond and his friend, Sidney Verba enthralled the academic world with the book: Civic Political Culture, which they co-authored. The book which was a survey of democratic political culture in five countries (United Sates, United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany and Italy), was designed to measure the level of political participation in these countries and other democracies by extension. The survey became necessary because at the time (which coincided with Cold War) not many countries around the world could really be called democracies.
By political culture is meant a set of attitudes, sentiments, emotions, feelings of individual citizens towards their political system. These variables can be classified into three orientations as cognitive (i.e., knowledge and belief about the political system) affective (i.e., emotions and feelings about the political system, its personnel, its performance) and evaluative (i.e., judgments, decisions and opinions about political objects).
Almond and Verba identified three types of political cultures namely parochial, subject and participant. While parochial political culture refers to a situation where “citizens have only limited awareness of the existence of central government”, subject political culture depicts a condition where “citizens are aware of central government, and are heavily subjected to its decisions with little scope for dissent. The individual is aware of politics, its actors and institutions. It is affectively oriented towards politics, yet he is on the “downward flow” side of the politics. In, this is general congruent with a centralized authoritarian structure.” The last, participant political culture is the condition where “citizens are able to influence the government in various ways and they are affected by it. The individual is oriented toward the system as a whole, to both the political and administrative structures and processes (to both the input and output aspects). In general congruent with a democratic political structure.”
According to the authors, “a participant is assumed to be aware of and informed about the political system in both its governmental and political aspects. A subject tends to be cognitively oriented primarily to the output side of government: the executive, bureaucracy, and judiciary. The parochial tends to be unaware, or only dimly aware, of the political system in all its aspects”. In their conclusion, Almond and his friend argued that the United States and United Kingdom have the highest of participatory democracy among the five countries surveyed.
Although the book has been trailed by a blister of criticisms for being biased towards Anglo- American, the point the authors are making is that participatory democracy does not only consist in organising regular elections, but also in building democratic structures and institutions and orienting the citizens towards the ethos of democracy. Standing for elections and being voted for as well as voting is not the only yardstick for measuring democracy. For instance, what we have in this country currently is the situation where people vote without choosing. People are herded into the polling boots to give a seal to the people they do not want. This is manifest in the quality of leadership the country has had since she returned to civil democracy sixteen years ago. Participatory democracy includes all the three orientations (cognitive, affective and evaluation) I mentioned in the first and second paragraphs of this piece.
This piece is designed to educate our National Assembly, particularly, the Senate, which is currently working on a bill to claw the social media, which is considered a subtle way to gag the media. Titled “Draft Bill to Prohibit Frivolous Petition and Other Matters Connected Therewith” the bill, which is has gone into the second reading, seeks to forbid social media operators from slandering members of the public including the lawmakers themselves.
The authors of this bill should know that the media play indispensable roles in political participation, which democracy is all about. In fact, without being immodest, the media cannot be dichotomised from democracy because they are ab initio correlates. If our Distinguished Senators can take time to read the book by a German philosopher, Jugen Habermas, they will gain insight on the folly of their planned move to gag the social media.
In that book, Habermas is talking about the Public Sphere, a place (coffee house in the ancient times) where people gathered to discuss issues in their societies (including how they are governed), without the fears that they would be punished. The Public Sphere provided them the platform to vent their anger on political miss-rule and lack-lustre leadership. They could also use the platform to praise the government. The government of those days were aware of this and never bothered to close those forums. Rather, they used them as feedbacks for their actions and inactions.
In the modern times, the media (including newspapers, magazines, radio, television, social media traditional mode of information dissemination) represent or is the Public Sphere. They provide the platforms for citizens to air their views on the affairs (including debates at national and state legislatures, the executive and judicial arms of government as well as the lifestyles of their members) of the society. From the social contract theory point of view, the citizens have every right to know how they are being governed and to question government on issues they find objectionable. They also have the right to remove incompetent government and the legislature or any of its members, whose activities do not harmonise with the rules of the land. These are some of the ways citizens can participate in government and the media is the purveyor belt without which these can be achieved because it provides the platform.
Whether our Distinguished Senators know it or not, because of its roles ( which have earned it the name, The Fourth East of the Realm) , the media has installed government and dismissed governments (including sacking of presidents , judges and leaders in the legislatures) in many parts of the world. In Nigeria, the media played a prominent role in the cessation of foreign rule. The media was very instrumental in the struggles which forced the military back to the barracks and thus paved the way for the relative level of democracy currently enjoyed in the country, the senators now want to distort.
Regrettably and unfortunately too, the political elite including the senators used the media they are now hounding to achieve their ambition. For instance, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, would have had his ambition truncated where it not for the media (including the social media) which exposed the sinister plans to stop him. The same applies to the Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara and his deputy. During election campaigns, members of the Nigerian political elite used the social media to malign their opponents. Now, they are biting the same finger that fed them. When they were using them (social media), they did not see the ugly side.
The emergence of the New Media (if you like call it citizen journalism or social media) is the out-growth of 21st century designed to enhance democracy. The Almighty God, who created heaven and earth, saw that man was becoming corrupt by day He decided to give man the wisdom to invent Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that enables man to expose with ease these evil deeds on behalf of the common man. It also helps man to participate actively in politics, which is what democracy is all about: to enable man have a say in the government of the land.
From the structural functionalist’s theory point of view, the society is likened to a human anatomy which has interconnected parts each of which works for the maintenance of the whole to prevent it from collapse. Breakdown of any of these parts results to the collapse of the entire human system. Analogously, the media is an indispensable element of the society and its breakdown will precipitate the collapse of the society. Like I said in the foregoing paragraphs, without a vibrant media, democracy is useless and meaningless. Therefore, our Distinguished Senators should be told that their move to claw the social media is anti-democracy and unacceptable. It is one of the institutions we need to consolidate democracy in this country.
President Mohammadu Buhari is not part of the deal (which is tantamount to returning to the country to the obnoxious decrees 2 and 4) and has vowed to veto it on the ground that the principle of the bill was inconsistent with democratic ideals of free speech enshrined in the constitution of the land, adding that he had sworn to protect and uphold the dictates of the constitution and would not in anyway go against it.
The president stated further that without free speech, elected representatives won’t be able to gauge public feelings and moods about governance issues.
“As a key component of democratic principles are so emotionally attached to free speech that they would defend it with all their might”, he said.
In the book of Esther in the bible, Zeresh told her husband, Haman: “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him–you will surely come to ruin!” Our Distinguish Senators should be careful with the media. If not they will be trading the path to their down full.
Chris Uba is News Editor of The Union