…Decry Nigeria’s Low Ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has said that that there can be no true democracy and good governance in any country where press Freedom is not guaranteed. He spoke just as the Speaker, House of representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara also maintained that press freedom
…Decry Nigeria’s Low Ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has said that that there can be no true democracy and good governance in any country where press Freedom is not guaranteed. He spoke just as the Speaker, House of representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara also maintained that press freedom is “not negotiable”.
Saraki made the statement in a goodwill message to a one-day conference marking the 2019 World Press Freedom Day organised at the weekend by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) and the European Union’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme.
The theme of the conference was: ‘Press Freedom in Nigeria — the Rule of Law, Media and Violent Extremism’.
The Senate President, who was represented by the Deputy Minority Whip of the Senate, Senator Philip Aduda, stated that the 8th Senate values the media as crucial partners in the quest to build a stronger and more vibrant democracy.
He said: “We do appreciate that we cannot deliver good governance without a free press, and we are always available to work in tandem with the media to ensure a democratic society that serves us all.”
“Clearly, if we truly wish to grow and preserve our democracy, we must understand that a free and pluralistic media environment that guarantees access to information, is non-negotiable.”
“When citizens have information, they are able to make informed choices due to the diversity of their viewpoints. When we have such a society, when citizens are not only well-informed but are free to express their valid opinions — without fear or prejudice — it is only then that we can truly say we are practising true democracy.”
“This is because democracy has at its foundation the freedom of the press, which in turn promotes good governance, accountability and respect for human rights.”
“The urgency of this is reflected in Nigeria’s ranking on the Global Press Freedom Index of 2019, where we are ranked 120 out of 180 countries.”
“One step lower than our standing in 2018, in fact. Other pointers would include the incidence of detention of journalists in this country.”
Saraki thanked the Chief Executive of PTCIJ, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, for inviting him to the event, which presented an opportunity to reaffirm the power and responsibility of the media and to recommit to the ideals of a free and independent press.
“It also serves as an occasion to reiterate that this power of the press comes with a great responsibility: to be the watchdogs that tell the stories that protect, defend and preserve our democracy; and hold leaders to account,” he stated.
Also speaking at the two day conference, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, said that press freedom in the country is not negotiable in spite all the direct violence and other challenges facing journalists.
Dogara also described those who attacked the media through fake news as the “enemies of the people’’.
He said that they were bent on eroding the credibility of the press, saying they were as dangerous as those perpetrating violence against journalists.
The Speaker pledged the support of the parliament to the Nigerian press in its efforts to uphold fairness, objectivity and truth.
“As legislators, we will always stand up and speak out for pressmen and media outfits that uphold the ethics of fairness, objectivity, truthfulness and patriotism in their practice.”
`I hope the 9th Assembly will dedicate itself to enacting enabling laws that will prioritise the protection and welfare of journalists to enable them do their work democratically.”
“The theme of this year’s celebration is most apt as Nigeria now faces one of the worst periods of insecurity manifesting in violent extremism, rampant cases of kidnapping, cattle rustling, herder/farmers violent conflicts and murderous campaign of bandits across Nigeria. These are major challenges to media practitioners.”
“The media must constantly balance the need to inform the citizens with their equally weighty responsibility to ensure that their reports do not contribute to exacerbating an already dangerously tense and fragile situation.”
“In all nations of the world, the citizens appreciate the role of the press to inform, educate and entertain as well promote accountability of the government to the people,’’ the lawmaker said.
In his assessment of the relationship between government and the press in Nigeria under the present dispensation, he described it as banal.
“We are all witnesses to recurring examples of coercion, threats, brutality, arrests, incarceration and media shut down perpetrated by the state against journalists and their establishments.”
“Instances of these draconian measures adopted by state actors abound during the recent elections held in parts of the country and the general elections,’’ he said.
Dogara, however, said that the organised media in Nigeria had largely acquitted itself creditably, saying it had waged many memorable campaigns against tyranny and corruption.
“Our media practitioners definitely deserve some applause. But we will do better, if we never stop documenting and exposing all cases of oppression of journalist by enemies of open society who masquerade as democrats.”
“If we never cease to demand that those in power must halt efforts to curtail press freedom and freedom of expression and above all, continue with courage to bring the laws and hold those in power to account,” Dogara stressed.
A Judge of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, Justice Dupe Atoki, who also spoke at the event, called for the repeal of all anti-free press laws in the country.
She said that the 9th National Assembly should also be committed to passing laws to decriminalise offences of sedition and libel.
Atoki said that the media should proactively leverage on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act in their work to foster investigative journalism.
She tasked Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to respect and comply with requests for information from individuals and organisations, adding that all outstanding judgments on FOI Act should be fully enforced and complied with.
“There should be continuous intensive training and retraining for journalists to enhance their professional competence.
She urged those in position of authority to be tolerant of the media as they contribute to national development and rule of law in the society.
Atoki said that the media today has an all embracing role to play in a democratic society.
“As a watch dog of the society, it is expected to monitor the activities and practices of public administrations and other institutions that directly and indirectly affect the public,“ she said.
She said that the media remained an effective means of promoting accountability in government.
“If their sources of information are not protected and they are open to legal action which prevents them from reporting in the public interest, rule of law would be threatened,“ she said.
“We do appreciate that we cannot deliver good governance without a free press and we are always available to work with the media to ensure a democratic society that will serve us all,“ he said.
Earlier, Mr Ketil Karlsen, EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS, said that the quality of democracy was linked to the state of free of expression as well as media freedom and pluralism.
He said that the EU had supported free media and investigative journalism in Nigeria as part of its support for democratic governance.
“Investigative journalism fulfils a necessary watchdog role that assists the public in holding governments and institutions at all level accountable for their actions and obligations,“ he said.
He said that the Nigerian press remained one of the most vibrant on the African continent.
“The adoption of FoI Act has generated many hopes and we look forward to its effective implementation where journalists and others are free to express their opinions,“ he said.
Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, Executive Director, Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism, said between 2011 and 2015 there were 43 attacks on Journalists.
He said that it rose to 165 between 2015 and first quarter of this, four times the number in 2011 and 2015.
Olorunyomi attributed this to the constraining laws against the media that continued to be in the statute which needed to be reviewed.
He said that the conference was aimed at the possibility of reviewing the laws, adding that attacks on journalists do not come from only state actors but also from non-state actors.
“Anywhere in the world where you want to build democracy the first consideration is a recognition of the right to freedom of expression which include how journalists do their work, safety and welfare issues among others,“ he said.
He said that there should be no law that give government officials the justification to attack journalists in the course of carrying out their duties.
Oloruyomi said that resolutions from the conference would be collated and presented to the National Assembly as a media agenda for the 9th Assembly.
The World Press Freedom Day is to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate press freedom around the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.