By ‘Sola Fagorusi
Times are becoming hard for bloggers all over the world. Death threats, arrests, incarceration, brutal murder, court cases are the lots of a number of bloggers across the world. Bangladeshis have been regaled of late with news of hacking of bloggers and sometimes their associates in broad daylight. Web owners and publishers are also known to have faced or are facing similar fate in Nigeria. The story of Seun Oloketuyi, the publisher of naijahottestgist.com readily comes to mind. He was arrested about four months ago for allegedly publishing a false story on the Managing Director of a first generation bank. Also in the news was the story of Ojo Emmanuel, who was arrested for posts he made about the wife of Ogun State governor. By the time he appeared in court, he was accused of ‘criminally libeling the wife of the state governor, conspiracy against the state government and assault on policemen.’ The landscape also has scenes from the arrest of one Desmond Ike-Chima who operates myemag.net and e-Nigeria.com. He was kept at Ikoyi Prison for allegedly defaming the reputation of a bank manager. There are several more.
The narrative is not different in other parts of the world where the works of bloggers are a subject of anxiety to some members of the public. In Ethiopia, three bloggers were recently acquitted after they had spent about a year and half in detention. Though the government gave a different reason for their arrest, the public nevertheless knew they had been arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Before their arrest, they were known to be tough critics of the government. In Bangladesh, where the body count of bloggers hacked to death is four; the killings have been about their secular writing and bias for atheism. It is difficult not to look at all these instances and ask – are bloggers powerful enough to cause disruption in some societal norms, enough to anger some interests who then plot their arrest and even death as is the case in Bangladesh.
The blogger is just one person usually writing about his or her views and other contents and doing so consistently. Unlike press outfits where there is a hierarchy. The blogger does not have those restrictions and so an error may lead to several things other than a corrigendum that is usually requested of press outfits. The press as the fourth estate of the realm has also had its share of agony. Journalists have been killed for exposing the truth. The ‘ash poured into our mouth’ following the brutal murder of Dele Giwa by a parcel bomb is still fresh in the minds of those who have kept dates with the practice of journalism in Nigeria.
If the truth must be told, bloggers are entitled to free speech. Bloggers, like other citizens also have access to share political speech and thoughts. These are some of the points that organisations working in the public interest have always stated. It is of note that statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists reveal that 70% of murdered journalists in Nigeria were on the political beat when they were killed. With the sophistication of technology, bloggers are known to deploy several means to scoop news and this puts them in harm’s way especially since they do not have the training to stay away from danger like their seeming contemporary in the traditional media. The hard truth though is that, like other professions or hobbies where there are quacks, there are also quack bloggers. With these ones, their interest is to blackmail and extort money from their victims. They use element of falsehood and other roguish means to obtain or concoct the information they desire. Even when this happens, one will think that the victim or victims will do the right thing by allowing the judicial process run its course. Instead, they harm twist and use their influence to distort justice and in the process buy pity for the blogger. Two wrongs can never make a right.
While fame, satisfaction and wealth may come with blogging, the blogger holds society and his or her conscience a responsibility of being fair in news reportage, opinion/editorial and other contents published. In countries where the Freedom of Information Act exists, one will expect that bloggers should be at the forefront of using this act that mandates government institutions to provide information within seven days or a maximum of 14 days to anyone requesting for it even when the purpose of seeking the information is not revealed. As more states sign on to the Act, one hopes bloggers will continue to engage with public institutions and make them more responsible to the citizenry. After all, blogging ultimately should serve the common good. Bloggers sometimes publish information some people do not want published. In some cases, it may be a story that is under legal copyright. To stay out of danger, it is important that bloggers understand copyright laws especially as it concerns intellectual properties. Bloggers also owe themselves the duty to understand what the law of the country stipulates as it concerns defamation and the constitutional privileges that can offer covering for them. For bloggers who publish privileged content especially as it concerns politicians and other high profiled citizen in society; maybe staying anonymous may keep them out of trouble. Whatever the case, the bloggers should always shoulder the responsibility of making sure those contents on his or her blog are truthful and balanced to avoid running against the law.