Media law can be defined as laws that regulate the acclivities of the Media. In Nigeria, Media Laws are legislations made by the government in power at the Federal, State, and Local Government levels, to control or regulate the activities of the press in a part or all parts of Nigeria.
There is no country in the world where there are no media or press laws or where the press is not expected to operate within the ambit of the law. However, given the fact that freedom of the press is an essential requirement for democracy, the laws governing the press in the genuinely democratic countries are those which only seek to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and ensure the maintenance of peace and tranquility. Such laws are the laws of defamation, sedition, copyright, plagiarism, privacy, etc.
In the history of Nigeria from the colonial era to the end of military rule in 1999, the following laws were promulgated or established as listed below:
A: As at independence in 1960,
1). The Newspaper Act, 1917.
2). Printing presses, Registration Act, 1933
3). The Criminal Code Act and Schedules thereto insofar at it deals with:
Sedition: Sections 50 and 51 (secs 416 & 417 of penal code)
Injurious Falsehood: Section 59 (sec 418 PC)
Power to Prohibit Importation of Publications: Sec. 58
Seditious Publication against Foreign Head of State: Sec. 60.
Contempt of Court: Sec. 6, Criminal Code Act & Sec. 133.
B: Between 1960 and the Coup d’etat of 1966
1). Children and young persons (Harmful publications) Act, 1961.
2). Defamation Act, 1961
3). Emergency Powers Act, 1961
4). Seditious Meeting Act, 1961
5). Obscene publications Act, 1961
6). Official Secrets Act, 1962
7). Newspaper (amendment) Act, 1994
C: Between 1966 and 1979
1). Circulation of Newspaper Decree No. 2, 1966
2). The Defamatory and Offensive Publications Decree No.44, 1966.
3). Newspaper (Prohibition of Circulation) Decree No. 17, 1967.
4). Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No 11, 1976
5). News Agency of Nigeria Decree No.19, 1976
6). Nigeria Television Authority Decree No. 24, 1977
7). Newspaper (prohibition of circulation) (validation) Decree No. 12, 1978
8). Nigeria Press Council Decree No. 31, 1978
9). Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria Decree No. 8, 1979
10). Daily Times of Nigeria (Transfer of certain shares) Decree No. 101, 1979.
11) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (certain consequential Repeals, etc) Decree No. 115, 1979
D: From 1979 to return of the military in Dec. 1983 and beyond
1). Constitution (suspension and modification) Decree No. 1, 1984
2). State Security (Detention of person) Decree No 2, 1984
3). Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree
No 4, 1984
4). The Federal Military Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers) Decree No. 13, 1984.
5). Copyright Decree No. 68, 1988
6). Nigeria Media Council Decree No. 59, 1992.
7). Nigeria Press Council Decree No. 85, 1992.
8). National Broadcasting Commission Decree No 38, 1992
9). Treason & Treasonable Offences Decree No. 29, 1993
10). Offensive Publications (proscription) Decree No 35, 1993
11). Newspaper Decree No 43, 1993
12). Newspapers, etc (suspension and prohibition from circulation) Decree No. 48, 1993
13). The Constitution (suspension & modification) Decree No. 107, 1993
14). State Security (Detention of persons) (Amendment) No. 2), Decree 14, 1994.
15). Nigeria Press Council (Amendment) Decree No. 60, 1999.
E: Constitutional Base of the Press:
Sec 24, 1960 constitution
Sec 25, 1963 constitution
Sec 21 & 36, 1979 constitution
Sec 22 & 38, 1989 constitution
Sec 23 & 40, 1995 Draft constitution
Sec 22 & 39, 1999 constitution
F: Ethical Base of the Press:
• NUJ Code
• Code of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, 1962
• Code of NPO, 1979 adopted officially in Dec., 1992.
• Ilorin Code, 1998
• Nigeria Broadcasting Code, 2002
• Chapter TWO of 1999 Constitution.
Based on the above listed laws our concern here is only the laws which are universally imposed in civilized societies that laws of defamation, sedition, copyright, plagiarism, etc.
(b) Definition of Ethics
Ethics is the branch judgment as to the rightness or wrongness, desirability or undesirability, approval or disapproval of our actions. It is the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.
(c) Definition of Media Ethics
Media ethics means Code of conduct prescribed by the press to guard and protect professionals and of course the profession entirely. Media practitioners had to establish their own code of conduct in order to safeguard themselves from committing any offence against the society and in situations where such offence is committed what are the defenses available to them under the law? Media ethics helps the media professionals to set standards of moral context, what is avertable and unacceptable in the performance of their duties of gathering, processing, and dissemination of a wide varieties of message designed for enlightenment and entertainments.
(c). Distinction between law and ethics.
Law can be regarded as a social control unlike ethics which deals with ideas which are considered to be good by a particular society and ought to be followed. Breach of law results to sanction, sentence and conviction, imprisonment, fine, etc, while ethics is a moral contact which results to warning, suspension, etc.
Law is imposed by the outer society while ethics is self imposed and self-enforced (e.g. by a professional body for its members). Law can expire or be repealed, but ethics is continuous. Law has more foray institutions, such as the legislature, police, judiciary (the courts tribunals, Court –martial, prison, reformatory, etc), but ethics has less formal institutions for its formulation and enforcement. Indeed the chief enforcer of ethics is the conscience.