On the occasion of today’s commemoration of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day, the Nigerian National Committee of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) is asking the new government that will be inaugurated in Nigeria on May 29 to commit to creating a better operating environment for journalists and media organisations.
In separate statesmanship issued by Musikilu Mojeed (President) and Tobi Soniyi, (Chair, Advocacy Committee of IPI Nigeria) and Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Secretary General of Nigerian Guild of Editors, the two foremost media bodies tasked the incoming government on media freedom, safety of practitioners and the need to review NBC Act and other anti-media laws.
IPI on its part said “in the past few years, cases of media and journalists’ harassment have been rampant. These violations include arrests, physical attacks, denial of access, threats, equipment damage, equipment seizure, lawsuits and high-handedness and arbitrariness by some agencies of government.
“Nigerian journalists are in perpetual danger, and we are urging the incoming government to embrace a new attitude by deliberately improving the operational environment of journalists and the media. There are still a number of oppressive and media-unfriendly laws, such as those on criminal defamation and cybercrime, that need to be amended. The government should also begin widespread sensitisation of its security operatives, who must understand that journalists and the media are key elements of democracy.
“While state actors, especially state governors, must end intimidation and harassment of journalists, Nigerian politicians and political parties should also desist from the use of online trolls to attack journalists and media organisations for performing their constitutional duties of upholding the people’s right to know and holding governments, individuals and organisations accountable.
“The incoming administration, to be led by Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, must also take deliberate steps to help the sustainability of media outlets while respecting press freedom and freedom of speech.
“IPI Nigeria is also concerned that as laudable as the passage of the Freedom of Information Act is, journalists have not been able to fully utilise the law to hold public officials accountable because government officials continue to play pranks to deny them the information they seek.
“Section 2 (1) of the Act states, “A public institution shall ensure that it records and keeps information about all its activities, operations and business”. This provision is not being complied with. Specifically, sub-sections 2–4 mandate public institutions to publish public records in different accessible forms for information seekers. This is also not being complied with.
“Sections 22 and 39 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution provide for Freedom of Expression and the Press.
Section 22 states that: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. Section 39, which is closely related to Section 22, provides that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference”.
“IPI Nigeria demands that the incoming government commits to the total implementation of the FOI Act. This is because the free flow of information is essential to the survival and growth of democracy. Misinformation and disinformation thrive more robustly when authorities withhold information that ordinarily should be made available to the public”.
NGE Tasks Incoming Government on Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists
· Promises to engage authorities on review of NBC Act, anti-media laws
The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) on its part has tasked the incoming government to initiate deliberate and sustained policies and programmes to promote freedom of expression, media freedom and safety of journalists.
The Guild noted that there were conscious efforts in the past few years by some members of the National Assembly – working in collaboration with officials of the executive arm of government, to criminalise journalism practice in Nigeria.
The umbrella of all the editors in Nigeria, which stated this in a statement yesterday to mark this year World Press Freedom Day, also promised to engage the incoming government over the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act and the Broadcast Code of Conduct – with the aim to amend and reform them to conform to the global best practices.
The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every May 3, is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a Driver for all Other Human Rights”, which the UN said signified the ‘’enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights.’’
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.
‘’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.
‘’Cases of journalists who are deprived of their inalienable rights due to their work continue to occur over and over again. Cases of harassment, intimidation, violence – and even murder – have been documented in the past eight years – by both local and international pro-media rights groups’’, the NGE stated.
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.
The NGE said it is nevertheless, not unaware of the media’s shortcomings, saying the professional body will continue to provide useful advice on the improvement of journalism profession.
The body advised members of the public to make use of the recently inaugurated nine-member board of the National Media Complaints Commission (NMCC), otherwise known as the National Ombudsman, to report cases of media misconduct.
‘’As earlier stated by the commission, the inauguration of NMCC is a major step by the media industry to strengthen public confidence in the media through prompt resolution of issues bordering on ethical breaches in media content.
‘’The process is being driven by the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO,) comprising the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), and the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), along with other strategic media players and the civil society, in particular the MacArthur Foundation’’, the editors added.
The NGE added that the commission was created to serve as an independent forum for resolving complaints about the press quickly, fairly, and free of charge; maintaining high standards of Nigerian journalism and journalistic ethics; and defend the freedom of the press and the rights of the people to know.