Press Freedom Day: Experts, Media Organisations Decry Attacks on Journalists

Press Freedom Day: Experts, Media Organisations Decry Attacks on Journalists

Thirty years after May 3rd was proclaimed as the date to commemorate the International world press freedom, the day has become a day for journalists and media practitioners across the world to reflect on the state of freedom of expression across all countries and the role of the media in the promotion of right to

Thirty years after May 3rd was proclaimed as the date to commemorate the International world press freedom, the day has become a day for journalists and media practitioners across the world to reflect on the state of freedom of expression across all countries and the role of the media in the promotion of right to expression in democracy.

In 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommended that world press freedom be declared officially. The essence of the proclamation was to protect journalists, create awareness for the government to respect the press as the fourth estate of the realm, and rejig their commitment to the proliferation of societies free from suppression of voices.

This year’s theme for the celebration is “Shaping a Future Right: Freedom of Expression as a Driver for All Human Rights” for the 2023 activity to commemorate the 30th anniversary of press freedom worldwide. Nigeria, as a democratic country, also joined the international community to entrench the existence of press freedom and to celebrate the development of the supposed freedom in the country.

It was another opportunity for Civil Society Organisations, local and international, media organizations, media experts to lend their voices to the state of Nigerian media and challenges being confronted in the practice of journalism, attacks on journalists and their welfare.

In their different opinions, they all agreed that despite the fact that the country has enjoyed 24 years of uninterrupted democracy, journalists and media practitioners are still struggling with the restrictions and suppression of the press in the country

Speaking on Channels Television Daily Morning Show earlier today, the Executive Director of the International Press Centre, Mr. Lanre Arogundade expressed his displeasure with the narrative of how journalists are struggling to experience the said freedom in the country. According to him, despite the efforts of Nigerian journalists to oust the military government, it is quite unfortunate that the country is battling deliberate gagging of freedom of expression. from the state and non state actors.

Mr. Arogundade pointed out that one of the main causes of the limitations on journalists’ ability to fully exercise their fundamental human right to freedom of expression is the journalists who are currently employed by the political elites to act as spokespeople. He also accused them of justifying attacks on media practitioners by their employers.

He also decried several attacks on journalists, noting that not less than 55 journalists were attacked by both state and non state actors in 2022. He also cited the attacks that many reporters and media actors encountered during the 2023 general elections.

Professor Tunde Akanni, communication lecturer at Lagos State University characterized Nigeria as a nation that does not respect press freedom. He noted that many journalists have been subjected to inhumane treatment during the course of their duties to hold the authority accountable.

Speaking with NDR in an interview, he noted the violation of human affects journalist is an extension of the restriction of fundamental human right in the country. He condemned the government attempts to enact some laws which will hinder the freedom of expression in the country

Professor Akanni urged the media practitioners to remain united to fight against press restrictions in the country, claiming that the government can only operate against the media if the media is not united

“Nigeria is not press freedom compliant yet you must have noticed that offline and online people who tend to express their opinions get harassed from time to time and journalists get more harassed. Until very recently, Agba Jalingo was in detention, not for any other reason but because he ran some stories that the governor of the state cros river found unpleasant.

“The story is not any more palatable in other states; in Kaduna, we have had more cases of harassment too, you will also discover that that this Buhari administration acounted for more attacks on journalists. There was a time the government made moves to rework a number of press related act, not for any reason, but to make it stricter for the operation of the media. Unfortunately, the ones in existence that were not all that favourable to the media are be left unattended to.

“The lack of press freedom, also affecting the fundamental human rights of the people in the society and journalists need to learn how to be fair with themselves before pointing to the government”.

Speaking on the essence of the world press freedom and its implication on Nigerian fundamental human rights situation, the executive director of the Media Career Development Network, Mr Lekan Otufodunrin noted that the country can still improve on its performance to accommodate freedom of expression in the country.

He also accused the regulatory bodies of restricting the media platforms from performing their roles actively as the watchdog to the government. He urged the government to imbibe the freedom speech which is the original tennet of democracy.

“The essence of the celebration is to reflect, to point out where the government and the non-state-actors are failing. By and large, I’m of the opinion that yes we can improve and we are not where we used to be, there have been some improvements. A number of journalists have been arrested but I think by and large, we can claim that there is a measure of press freedom. But there are hindrances and limitations there have been journalists and bloggers who have been locked up.

“There has been NBC that has fined stations, because suppression is not only in terms of arrest but it could also be about hindering.” These days, I’m sure radio stations will be afraid of who to invite and this is an opportunity to raise it and also to compare ourselves to other countries and to see best practices where they are getting it right and what are we missing.

Benedicta Akpede, the Programme Officer on Media freedom, Centre for Investigative Journalism and Development also stated that the state of media in the country is worrisome, alluding to several attacks and intimidation media houses are encountering by the regulatory bodies and non state actors. She also pointed at the economic instability of the media organisation as another restriction to their ability to perform at the highest level of their operation

“The state of press freedom is worrisome. We have a civic technology that helps us track the data on attacks on journalists, we have the data from 1985, and we have realised that in 2019 we had the highest numbers of journalists that have been attacked followed by 2022. We also had the case of NBC sanctioning even shutting down media organizations. All these in extension do not help our democracy in Nigeria.This is beyond journalists matters, this is a matter of fundamental human right.

Dr Awotan a lecturer in the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ) accused the owners of the media houses as the violators of the journalists’ human right. He stated that some media platforms are defaulting the remuneration of their staff, and that has subjected them to mental and professional slavery.

He encouraged the veteran and experienced journalists to rise up to the call of the journalists who are living in penury, claiming their financial struggle is the reason for their suppression and ethical disarray.

He argued that the comfort of the journalists will be determined by their financial capability, saying that outside of that, the profession will continue to be ridiculed by the state and and non state actors. He added that journalists are the social builders of society, and they deserve to be treated as such.

“Freedom of the press is the freedom of the people, at the fourth estate of the realm, the media practitioners are the social engineers, they are the ones that are in charge of making the blocks for building the structures.

“But basically, men are the conditions of their social economic circumstances, a man who is economically oppressed, no policy can give him freedom and no celebration can give such freedom. There is so much hypocrisy in Nigeria media that there is nothing to celebrate most media owners who are claiming to be veteran journalists are owing salaries. Some are owing salaries for more than 6 months or 9 months salaries, some are owing more than that. Some journalists are living penury.

“They are living in a condition where we can liken to the basis, because they work very honestly but a labourer has not been earning its wages. Can you envisage freedom for such a person? A man that is hungry, his humanity is being depreciated every day so what are you talking of freedom for a man whose humanity has been depreciated”

Press Statements From Media Organisations, Calling for Media Freedom

To further commemorate the world press freedom day, the Media Right Agenda (MRA) called on Nigerian government to protect media freedom practically and legally. The non-governmental organisation in a press statement signed by the programme director, Mr Ayode Longe, urging the give the media fair playground to perform its duty by holding the government accountable.

The statement partly reads “The clear evidence before us is that no other sector of the Nigerian society has faced such relentless attacks for decades as the media sector has had to endure. By placing the responsibility of policing a powerful institution like the Government on the media without adequate or commensurate protections, the media has been made a target for attacks by all corrupt or incompetent government officials seeking to hide their misdeeds or mistakes.”

“Observing that this year’s World Press Freedom Day is being commemorated with the theme “Shaping a future of rights: Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights”, Mr. Longe said “It is only in an environment where freedom of expression is adequately protected and respected that citizens can have the confidence to engage in public discourse; criticize government policies and officials; make meaningful contributions to policies; advocate for their own rights as well as the rights of others.”

“MRA also called on the incoming Administration of President-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu to make a commitment to protect media freedom and to do so by, among other things, reviewing and amending existing laws and regulations to ensure they provide robust legal protections for freedom of expression, in conformity with international standards; taking steps to ensure the safety of journalists, offline and online, as well as by investigating and prosecuting attacks on journalists, and holding perpetrators accountable.”

Nigeria Guild of Editors Challenges Incoming Government on Press Freedom

The Nigeria Guild of Editors tasked the incoming administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to initiate a deliberate policy to promote freedom of expression in the country.

The umbrella body of the editors in Nigeria also In a statement signed by its President Mustapha Isah and the General Secretary, Dr. Iyobosa Uwugiaren, the NGE said that pluralistic mass media predicated on freedom of expression, freedom of information and free press is fundamental to any effective and functional democracy all over the world, stating that Nigeria can’t be an exception.

The editors also noted that they have established a National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), which will serve as a body to report any media misconduct to. They urged the government to desist from suppressing the media.

“We share the popular notion that freedom of the media is indispensable for the protection of all other human rights. Instances abound where inhuman treatments, torture, corruption, misuse of power, impunity and nepotism were exposed because of the reports by the media. Informing members of the public is often the first and essential step to begin remedying human rights violations and hold governments to account.

“Disturbing signs of repression, violations of media freedom and several cautious attempts to criminalise journalism practice, have been observed in the past few years in our country. There have been different forms of control, censorship, and pressure over the content of mass media in Nigeria, especially the broadcast stations, which have hindered their independence and pluralism.

The NGE added that the case of two Nigerian journalists – Gidado Shuaib and Alfred Olufemi, who were recently convicted by an inferior court in Kwara State, ought not to have been charged, let alone convicted, for publishing an investigative report about a factory.

The conviction of the two journalists has sent disturbing signals to the mass media that pointed out the necessity to urgently reform our laws and ensure journalism is not criminalized in Nigeria in line with the intention of anti-media forces.

IPC Announces Establishment of Center for Safety and Protection of Journalists

The International Press Centre (IPC) seized the celebration of Press Freedom Day to announce its establishment of a centre for the Safety and Protection of Journalist (CSFPJ). The centre will coordinate responses to the challenge of addressing the worsening state of the safety of journalists and press freedom in the country.

A statement by Ms Melody Lawal, the Officer in charge of the desk, reads “an indication of the deteriorating Press freedom situation was the fact that the year 2022 witnessed more attacks on journalists and the media than the previous year. Unlike 2021 when forty-one (41) attacks were documented, the IPC Safety of Journalists Alert Desk recorded sixty-six (66) attacks in 2022 with the perpetrators including law enforcement and security agents; political thugs and hoodlums; unknown gunmen, among others.

“The breakdown shows that four (4) attacks were recorded in the North West, sixteen (16) in the North Central, six (6) in the North East, twenty-six (26) in the South West, four (4) in the South East and ten (10) in the South South.

“The types of attacks include physical assault, abduction, gun attack, threat to life, denial of access to information, unlawful arrest and detention, harassment, threat to sanction and payment of fine, with twenty-six (26) broadcast journalists, thirteen (13) print journalists and twenty-four (24) online journalists among those affected.

“In terms of gender, fifty-six (56) male journalists and ten (10) female journalists suffered one form of molestation or the other.

“According to the statement by IPC, full details of the attacks and the modus operandi of the new Centre on the Safety of Journalists will be unveiled at a media roundtable organised by IPC in partnership with the West Zone of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and the Oyo State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists at Ibadan, Oyo State.

“The roundtable, slated for Friday, May 5, 2023 shall have Professor Tokunbo Adaja, Dean College of Humanities & Social Sciences, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), giving the keynote address on ‘Protecting Freedom of Expression in the Age of Misinformation & Disinformation’.

“The event, which will be attended by editors, journalists and other media professionals and leaders of the NUJ is expected to exhaustively discuss the press freedom situation in the country and make recommendations on how the deteriorating situation can be checked.

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