…As Editors, MRA Demand Journalists Protection, Review of NBC Code, Ease of Information Flow …IFJ says 66 Journalists Murdered in 2020, 1000 Died of COVID-19 in 73 Countries President Muhammadu Buhari, has urged journalists to avoid incendiary words and actions that would divide the country while tasking them on the need to be sensitive and
…As Editors, MRA Demand Journalists Protection, Review of NBC Code, Ease of Information Flow
…IFJ says 66 Journalists Murdered in 2020, 1000 Died of COVID-19 in 73 Countries
President Muhammadu Buhari, has urged journalists to avoid incendiary words and actions that would divide the country while tasking them on the need to be sensitive and responsible in discharging their duties regarding the current situation of Nigeria.
The President’s admonition is coming amidst the demand by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) for protection of journalists, review of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Code and the ease of access to information to empower the citizenry.
While celebrating the World Press Freedom Day, an annual celebration marked every May 3rd, President Buhari, in a statement by his Spokesperson, Mr Femi Adesina, commended the media in the country, while charging them to use the freedom of press being enjoyed in the country to provide reliable information.
World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. This special day was inaugurated to act as a reminder to governments, of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. Besides, it also places a responsibility on media professionals to reflect on, and adhere to the principles of best practices that promote professionalism, ethical reporting and public-spirited advocacy.
Buhari, in the statement, reiterated that his administration is committed to freedom of the press.
The statement reads, “The media must be sensitive to what we are going through as a country, and anything that would exacerbate the situation, and further inflame passions and emotions, should be avoided.”
“The media needs to ensure that while informing, educating, entertaining and setting agenda for public discourse, it does not encourage incendiary words and actions that could further hurt our unity in diversity.
“Licentious freedom, the President says, is different from freedom with responsibility, and charges the Nigerian media to embrace the latter, rather than the former.
“He charges those who manage information for government to do everything in the public interest, while also encouraging the media to use the Freedom of Information Act available to make its jobs easier.
“The President submits that it is very vital to have access to reliable information in an era of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, all to cause discord in society.”
On its part, while congratulating all journalists in Nigeria and across the world for keeping faith with the tenets of the profession despite numerous challenges, the Nigerian guild of Editors (NGE) particularly celebrates journalists in the frontline of Covid-19 pandemic coverage as well as those charged with the responsibility of reporting crime and security, at a time like this when the nation is struggling to contain the scourge of insecurity.
The Guild in a statement signed by its President, Mr Mustapha Isah and General Secretary, Ms Mary Atolagbe, urges media owners, the private sector and the government, to provide special protection for journalists, as most of them are often neglected and exposed to sundry challenge, that not only impair their ability to discharge their duties, but also imperil their lives, culminating, in some cases, to untimely deaths.
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is: “Information as a Public Good,” which highlights the necessity of governments, state actors and the private sector to recognise the value of information as a critical element in leadership and service delivery. Much more, the theme places a great deal of responsibility on governments across the world to accord respect to journalists, the conveyors and disseminators of information, as partners in development, and not as enemies of the state.
Journalists across the world face grave challenges and dangers in the discharge of their duties. Some have paid the supreme price while others have been harassed and jailed for doing their lawful duty. This is because most governments still perceive journalists as intruders into the public space.
Threats Against Journalists
The International Federation of Journalists, the largest global body of journalists from over 140 countries says 66 journalists were murdered in 2020. More than 1,000 journalists have died from covid-19 in 73 countries since the start of the pandemic. Last month in Geneva, Switzerland, the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), another global defender of press freedom placed the daily average at more than 2 to 5 journalists dying per day from the pandemic.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, reports that 274 journalists were jailed in 2020 for doing their job of treating information as a public good. In Nigeria, several journalists have suffered harassment, some detained arbitrarily while some were murdered in cold blood by unknown assailants.
In 2020, alone, no fewer than 60 journalists in Nigeria faced life and career-threatening challenges in the form of intimidation, arrest and detention. Three journalists were killed within the same period, one by security forces during a protest in Abuja and two by unknown gunmen in Adamawa and Nasarawa states.
Aside attacks on journalists, their offices were not spared. Several media outlets were attacked and torched by irate mob during the #ENDSARS protests, with four media outlets fined for their coverage of the protests while others were fined for airing dissenting opinions.
Muzzling the Media
While condemning very strongly these attempts at muzzling the media, the Guild urges governments at all levels in Nigeria to value information as a public good and treat the conveyors of information as partners, instead of seeing them as enemies.
“The media is a partner and a critical stakeholder in the national project. The media played a major role in the struggle for independence and enthronement of democracy. Therefore, the media cannot suddenly transform to agents of destruction of the institutions it helped to build.
“Information as a public good is the wheel that drives democracy and its attendant virtues including openness, free speech and other forms of civil liberties. The harassment of the media by the National Broadcasting Commission, the police, DSS and other state actors should stop,” it says.
The Guild also calls for a review of the National Broadcasting Code and all other media statutes, to bring them in tune with democracy and the promotion of free speech.
The Body of Editors urges the Nigerian government to, at all times, strive to protect the media. It is only then that ‘Information as a Public Good’ would become relevant. Stop the detention, impunity, harassment and killing of journalists. Our product (Information) is a public good.
“The Guild aligns with the UN and other world bodies in calling for the release of all journalists in detention. Nigeria, and indeed the world, needs a free press to promote democracy, effectively report the pandemic and other issues threatening human existence, including insecurity.
“The Guild commends the Federal and State governments as well as all relevant health institutions and personnel for their spirited efforts at containing the Covid-19 pandemic, the statement added.
Access to Information
Speaking on the same vein, the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) calls on the Federal Government to make a commitment to put mechanisms in place to ensure ease of access to information for citizens and create a conducive environment for journalists and media workers to safely carry out their professional duties.
In addition to enabling the government fulfil its legal obligations, such a commitment, MRA noted, would signal the government’s genuine belief in the theme of this year’s WPFD, “Information as a Public Good”, which according to Ms Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, “underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information.”
In a statement he signed on behalf of the organization, its Programme Director, Mr Ayode Longe, said: “Although Nigeria has a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, its implementation is far from satisfactory as compliance with the provisions of the Law across government has been poor. This is why we are asking government to put mechanisms in place for the effective implementation of the Act to enhance the ability of citizens to access information, which is definitely a public good.”
He explained that such mechanisms should be aimed at improving the level of compliance by public institutions with the provisions of the Act in different critical areas, including their responsiveness to requests for information from members of the public; their publication of information that they are required to proactively disclose; their submission of annual reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation; as well as the speedy adjudication and resolution of cases arising under the Act.
Implementation of FOI
Besides, Mr. Longe argued, if the FOI Act is to make a real impact in bringing about transparent and accountable governance in Nigeria, its implementation across different levels of government also needs to be assured. He therefore called on all the States to either commit to the full implementation of the Act at their State level or take urgent steps to enact and implement their own state FOI laws.
According to him, despite the insistence by many states over the last 10 years that the FOI Act does not apply to them, it is ironic and quite disappointing that only two States – Ekiti and Imo – have so far passed FOI laws for their States and even so, the level of implementation of those laws remains unimpressive.
He observed that the only conclusion that can be drawn from the situation is that the other 34 States have no intention of being transparent or accountable to their residents but are merely using the excuse of non-applicability of the Law to their States to foster secrecy in governance, thereby depriving citizens of the possibility of participation in governance at the State level.
Mr. Longe stressed that “citizens need reliable, accurate and timely information about government, its policies and activities and only an effective implementation of the FOI Act can ensure that genuine information about the government gets to the people, which can in turn engender trust in government by the people. A lack of access to information gives rise to and fuels the spread of rumours and fake news. Only timely access to accurate information can cure this.”
He said there is also a need for government to provide an enabling environment for journalists and media workers to carry out their duties without fear for their safety as an atmosphere of fear causes self-censorship, which denies the people access to the information they should normally be entitled to have.
According to him, “Self-censorship can also exacerbate the spread of misinformation and harmful content as journalists and media houses, in fear of their safety, increasingly refuse to fact-check information or carry out investigations into stories but rather leave citizens to depend for their information on available self-publishing platforms, which frequently push out unverified news and information.”
Mr Longe advised the government to ensure that the law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary are appropriately sensitized about the importance of the media and journalists to the society and are alert to ensure that justice is done whenever journalists and media workers are attacked, saying it is only by so doing that it can achieve the goal of creating a conducive environment for media practice in Nigeria.