Beyond February 2015 polls, stakeholders step up campaign on safety of journalists


THE deployment, by Nigeria’s political actors, of various media platforms (online, offline) connecting with the electorates ahead of the February 14, and 28, 2015 General Elections has further underscored the significance of media as an institution so strategic not only to the deepening of democratic culture, but also the overall well being of the society.

  So far, with less than three weeks to the commencement of the elections, the politicians are active and excited, using and misusing media facilities as they criss-cross every nook and cranny of Nigeria canvassing for votes of Nigerians.

Ironically however, especially from the past experiences, media operators, journalists essentially, whose facilities are being so deployed for the accomplishment of their political aspirations, are, oftentimes, victims of abuses perpetrated by the same politicians.

  It is the realisation of this paradox that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and other partners steps up the implementation of the project, Promoting the Safety of Journalists in Nigeria, which is being funded by the Democratic Governance and Development (DGD) project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

  One of the key activities targeted towards achieving this objective is training of journalists on safety especially in relation to the election period, with emphasis on general public awareness on the importance of journalists’ safety before, during and after elections 2015.

  The South West leg of the training workshop took place last Thursday in Ibadan attracting participants from all the six states that make up the region. The project also involves the establishment of a national monitoring committee on journalists’ safety and 36 similar committees at state levels, in addition to developing a safety code for journalists. The Ibadan outing on Thursday drew curtains on the training segment of the project as similar exercises had taken place in other five geo-political zones of the country.

  The project derives its strength from the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity while UNESCO is designated as the coordinating agency for the implementation of this plan. Some of the action points marshalled at the 69th session of UN in November 2014 included the unequivocal condemnation of “all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.”

  The session also condemned strongly “the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against journalists” while expressing “grave concern that the vast majority of these crimes go unpunished, which in turn contributes to the recurrence of these crimes.”

  The resolutions at this UN session became the reference points of discussion at the workshop in Ibadan last Thursday.

  Leading the discussion was the project consultant and communication scholar, Prof. Chinyere Okunna of Mass Communication Department, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Anambra State  supported by two journalism teachers, Dr. Adesina Lukuman Azeez of Department of Mass Communication, University of Ilorin; and Dr. Muyiwa Popoola of Kwara State University, Malete, Kwara State.

  In fact, Dr. Azeez delivered the keynote address on Challenges to the Safety of Journalists in the South Western Nigeria which set the tone for the workshop.

  Speaking, Dr. Azeez began the presentation with a quotation from a paper delivered by Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo (2014) recently at a three-day workshop for journalists in Imo State.

    Ojo said, “the Nigerian environment as a whole is tough and challenging not only for the media but for other institutions as well.” According to him, “it is an environment in which public institutions are weak and inefficient, one in which impunity reigns, and it is an environment characterized by violence, insecurity, poverty, corruption and the personalization of state power. The space in which the media operate in Nigeria is increasingly getting heated by the voices of ethnic champions and religious bigotry. It is a space dominated by the politics of desperation, intolerance and winner-take-all mindset.”

   Azeez noted that Ojo’s observation aptly encapsulates the challenges to the safety of journalists in all regions in Nigeria.

     Azeez argued that the challenges to the safety of journalists in every part of Nigeria are comparable and generalizable because journalists, whether as a correspondent parachuted to a part of the country from a mother media organization having its base in Lagos, or as a local journalist working for a local media organization owned by a state government, work within similar political and media environment. 

    “Therefore, it is necessary to firstly present the general media environment in Nigeria in order to delimit and appreciate the challenges to the safety of journalists in the South Western Nigeria.  

   “In spite of all the constitutional provisions that define and guarantee the statutory roles of journalists in Nigeria, there is no clear indication of strong and special forms of protection for them to perform their constitutional obligations without interference or threats to their lives or extra judicial repercussions. 

   “In fact, in Nigerian case, Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that gives the press the statutory role of watchdog is curtailed by Section 45 of the Constitution that unequivocally states that the role of the press as provided in Section 22 can be abrogated by law reasonably justifiable in democracy. This kind of curtailment is abundantly evidenced in Nigerian media environment with draconian decrees and legislations like Seditious Act, Defamation Law, Decree 4 of 1984, Decree 2, Nigerian Press Council Law and many others that had threatened the safety and lives of Nigerian journalists. 

   “Therefore, journalists all over Nigeria have been working with specific risks of intimidation, harassment, violence, extra judicial killings, arbitrary arrest, kidnapping from state and non-state actors.” 

Challenges of the Safety to Journalists in the South Western Nigeria

Azeez noted that though the challenges of safety to journalists in Nigeria are comparable across all regions or zones of this country, there are however some peculiarities or specificities in the challenges to the safety of journalists practicing within the peculiar social political structures of the South Western Nigeria. 

    He listed the major challenges to the safety of journalists in the South West to include; Ownership Influence and Induced Collaboration (Double Jeopardy from the ownership to those who govern); Exploitation and Oppression by the Owners of the media (Non- payment of salary regularly); Political Alliance and Partisanship; Thuggery and Political Desperation; Intelligence Overbearing on Journalists; Misplaced Aggression by Journalists to repel regulation of  the Practice of Journalism; Overzealousness and Journalists’ Arrogance (Misunderstanding of their Responsibility or Unapological Radicalism and Commercialization

Speaking on the way forward, Azeez argued that the solution frankly resides in strengthening the ethos of professionalism in the practice of journalism in the zone.

   “In other words, individual journalist that wishes to guarantee his or her safety must imbibe and demonstrate the professional norms of good journalism, which have been identified as including particularly truthfulness, objectivity, neutrality and detachment. 

   “Such ethos of professionalism enjoins journalists to avoid the practices of fraternization with political aspirations of their owners. It encourages them to eschew all forms of subjective or biased reporting of political events and issues.”

   According to the scholar, the noble ethos of good journalism has not be adequately demonstrated by journalists in the Lagos-Ibadan axis in the way they have been reporting the unfolding drama among the political gladiators preparing for the February 2015 General Elections.  

   “I can clearly see bias and attachment of some media organisations and journalists in the way they have been reporting the provocative, mudslinging, inflammatory and unsavory character assassination that have characterized the campaign rallies of the political parties that are no doubt desperate in their bid to gain political power. 

   “I cannot see any reason why any media organization will report series of subtle propaganda against the candidate of the opposition party and I cannot understand why any newspaper without conscience will place an advertorial that is implicitly suggesting the death of a candidate. Of course, journalists thrive and rejoice on drama and spectacle. That is no doubt a major news value that often forms the basis of their judgment.”

   Azeez, however, believed that when extravagant perspective and drama triumph over the core essentials of journalism, objectivity is downplayed, and definitely this threatens the safety of journalists.  To him, it is therefore the responsibility of journalists in Nigeria as a whole and particularly in the South West that is destined to shape the destiny of journalism practice in the country to be faithful both to professional responsibility and reportage. 

   “As Olatunji Dare once put it, “journalism serves the public interest best when it is grounded on facts”. Therefore, “journalists should engage in a relentless search for facts, and cultivate the nice sense of discrimination essential for distinguishing fact from rumour” or gossip or campaign of calumny, the kind being orchestrated by political parties in the on-going campaign rallies. “Factual accuracy must never be compromised. If the details provided in a story are at variance with what readers or listeners know or witnessed, why should they place their faith in the reporter, or the journalists or for that matter, the organization that published the story?  And I add, how will they be safe in the course of performing their constitutional duties?”    

     He also observed that partisanship and all forms of professional ethical vices do violence to the best spirit of journalism. “Thus, journalists are supposed to put deliberate ponderings to personal instincts which may encounter effective public disapproval or yield to the influence of a preponderant professional condemnation. This can be a great risk on the lives and career of journalists.”

   The journalism teacher disclosed that apart from the need for the inculcation of the ethos of professionalism by journalists in the South West and in Nigeria as a whole, there is also the need for a sort of institutional safety mechanisms. 

   “The House of Representative had shown light in this direction with their intention to criminalize non-payment of salaries, which is a big challenge journalists in the South West in particular are facing. This intention needs to be intensified and broaden to institutionalize a compulsory insurance and reliable pension scheme for journalists.”

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