How to Check Impunity Against Journalists, by Experts

How to Check Impunity Against Journalists, by Experts

Experts at a roundtable to mark the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists”, at the weekend in Lagos, say the media needs to take the cudgels, to check rising cases of impunity against journalists, in the country. “We need to put threats, harassment and violations of the rights of journalists constantly on

Experts at a roundtable to mark the “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists”, at the weekend in Lagos, say the media needs to take the cudgels, to check rising cases of impunity against journalists, in the country.

“We need to put threats, harassment and violations of the rights of journalists constantly on the front burner. We must report them as they come,” quips, Mr Lanre Arogundade, director, International Press Centre (IPC), urging journalists to always report cases of threats, harassment or violation of their rights as individuals or that of their organization.

Organised by the IPC in conjuction with the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Lagos state branch with the support of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and titled, “The Nigerian Journalists Internet Rights Initiative (NJIRI),” the event was aimed at advancing the right to freedom of expression for online journalists in Nigeria.

According to the organisers, “It is premised on ensuring that internet spaces and online platforms are safe and free of institutional limitations for journalists and other media practitioners to use as mediums of information and engagement.”

“The goal of the initiative is to facilitate a free and safe online environment for journalists and other media professionals in Nigeria and ensure that the right to freedom of expression for online journalism in Nigeria is respected, protected and guaranteed.”

Alluding to the case of a journalist who recounted how she started receiving death threats shortly after her story on land matters was published, Arogundade said, “But for her recount at our recent training workshop in Abeokuta, we would not have known that she suffered that kind of threats.” “We must not shy away from reporting such threats or violations to civil society organizations”, he counsels.

Citing the awry case of the Osun state governorship re-run election where journalists were not only attacked but physically prevented from carrying out their professional assignments, Arogundade drew attention to the ‘Statement of Broad Principles’ in The Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage (Revised Edition 2018), which charged the government, political parties, the election management bodies (EMBs) and civil society organizations with the task of “creating an enabling environment for the media to perform its professional and social obligation during electoral processes.”

The Code says, “The government and its agencies shall ensure the safety of journalists during electoral processes, including refraining from assault or intimidation in any manner whatsoever”. It also says, “Political parties shall respect the right of journalists to cover and report their activities and refrain from harassing or intimidating them in any manner whatsoever”.

Lagos Lawyer, Mr Femi Falana SAN, who rendered the key note address, pleaded with the media to further interrogate the two year detention of recently released Bayelsa Journalist, Mr Jones Abiri. Revealing that there are 295 Nigerians languishing in detention under excruciating conditions, he said, “the media must interrogate the Jones Abiri case, you just cannot back off how he was held incommunicado for two years without any contacts to his wife and family and without any trial”. “Security agencies must conduct their operations within the ambit of the law”.

Arguing that both section 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights guarantee the rights of the media, he said “where your rights end is where the rights of others begin. You must therefore respect people’s right to privacy. If you write what is nonsensical or defamatory, you may be sued for libel”.

The human rights lawyer, who advised the media to be diligent, in carrying out its professional responsibilities, said the penalties in the Cyber Crime Law of 2015, which is directed at checking the excesses of the media, are very severe with sentences ranging from 10 – 25 years.

Calling on the media to regulate its practice, Falana decries a situation where Journalism is an all comers affair. “You need to properly regulate your practice so that journalists can be paid. Workers are looking for minimum wage but the media has no wage at all because if you are not paid for months, you have no wage,” he said.

“In the past, many journalists were jailed under the Sedition law. But since 1983, the law of sedition has been expunged from our statute. It is now a dead law”. He however noted that many are still being tried under the Sedition law. Citing the case of a journalist who was tried for writing that President Olusegun Obasanjo bought a tokunbo plane, he said he had to call the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Bayo Ojo SAN that his client was being tried under a dead law.

Falana also frowned at the use of school children in Kano to demonstrate against the publisher of Daily Nigerian, Jafar Jafar who published the ‘bribe taking video’ involving the State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje. This act he noted violates the Child Rights Act.

Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr Edetaen Ojo who noted that the culture of impunity has gone on in Nigerian for long; said “Up till now, no government has given us any clues on Dele Giwa’s murder, including other journalists tortured, kidnapped or killed.” He disclosed that Nigeria has regularly featured on ‘impunity index’ since 2012.

“In 2018, Nigeria ranked 13th on the impunity index and is found in the category of states like Afghanistan, South Korea, Pakistan etc. There’s no clear evidence that governments and other stakeholders aim to put in place framework to tackle impunity. Nigerian media are also not doing enough,” Ojo said

Explaining that Journalists’ safety involves the use of devices to protect laptops and conceal media reports and their sources in case security agencies invade their privacy; he chastised media organizations in the country for paying lip service to the training of their staff. “Non train journalists on safety issues; The Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) have left the gap wide open,” Ojo said, observing that “today’s event is a wake-up call on all of us: Journalists, security personnel and the judiciary should be trained on the safety of journalists so that there‘ll be conducive environment for all.”

Also speaking at the event, Mrs Yinka Shokunbi, managing editor, HeathPlus online said the new threats appear directed to those who report online. “Because of the new technology, every commentator on facebook now says he or she is writing from an informed position,” she said.

Warning that “we need to be wary about what we write about,” Shokunbi disclosed that 18 journalists have been detained in the last three years. “Detention is not very easy, some don’t come out of it very well. It’s important we understand the legal statutes that guides our work,” she said.

Mrs Tunrayo Alaka, executive director, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism was of the view that the media must stand up against all manner of violations including sexual harassment in the newsrooms. “It’s important that the campaign to check impunity and harassment of journalists must start with what happens in our newsrooms,” she said.

Chairman of the NUJ Lagos Branch, Dr Qasim Akinreti who was also the moderator of the event, disclosed that the union is now embarking on a biometric registration of its members in order to ward off quarks, urging members to take advantage of the move and regularize their practice. “All you need to register is a diploma in Journalism which is fair enough”, he said.

The event was attended by journalists, bloggers, media professional associations/unions, media support groups, civil society organisations, human rights/freedom of expression activists from civil society platforms and institutional stakeholder representatives

In a related development, he United Nations Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres said at least 88 journalists have been killed in 2018. He stated this in a video message titled the killing of journalists “outrageous” to mark the annual ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists’

“The killing of journalists around the world for doing their job is ‘outrageous’ and should not become the new normal,” Guterres said. “In just over a decade, some 1,010 journalists have been killed for reporting the news, and in nine out of 10 cases, the perpetrators are never brought to justice,” he added.

The UN chief said many thousands more have been “attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process,” saluting the will of the reporters in the field “who do their jobs every day despite intimidation and threats.” He, however, called on the international community “to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.”

To mark the International Day, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is launching an initiative to fuel awareness on the issue of journalists killed on the job.

Called ‘Truth Never Dies”, it encourages people to share stories by and about fallen journalists, to keep their legacies alive and to push for investigations into their deaths to be continued.

“The truth never dies. And neither must our commitment to the fundamental right to freedom of expression,” Guterres said, highlighting that when journalists are attacked “societies as a whole pay a price”.

A study on global trends in media published by UNESCO in 2017 highlighted that impunity for crimes against journalists remained the norm, and trends in kidnappings, disappearances and torture had shown substantial increases since 2012.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in September, calling on the international community to promote strategies that protect journalists and bring perpetrators of violence against the media to justice.

 

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