‘How ownership, political influences disrupt credible reporting’
• Experts seek better welfare, security for Nigerian journalists
The idea of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) originated in the Windhoek Declaration on promoting an independent and pluralistic press and adopted in Namibia in 1991. Across the globe, recent political, technological and economic transformations have placed new strains on press freedom. Some regions have witnessed a tightening of efforts by state actors to curb freedom of expression through restrictive legislation and censorship. New limitations linked to national security and anti-terrorism measures have also reinforced this worrying trend.
The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.
A study shows journalists are threatened by government’s censorship, organised crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the Internet. A group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has warned that there has “never been a more dangerous time to be a journalist.”
The Nigeria Freedom of Information Act made into law in 2011 makes public records and information more freely available to the public, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy. However, issues of media and transparency of the political process, independence and media literacy of the judicial system, and the accountability of state institutions towards the public are still blurred in the country.
Laws are made with no enforcement. The right to access information, as a human right, and press freedom in particular, should be guaranteed by the law and protected by an independent judiciary. However, legal over-regulation can also lead to censorship, for example, on the Internet, where the question of liability of digital intermediaries evokes new challenges for freedom of expression.
Governments and other stakeholders are sensitized on the need to adopt and apply laws that create an enabling environment for freedom of expression, the right to information and the safety of journalists, online and offline, as part of achieving SDG 16.
This year, the day which was in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women was marked in Accra, Ghana, under the topic ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law,’ to encourage discussion and promote understanding and awareness about current challenges to freedom of expression as well as achievements.
Among the goals, SDG 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.
Communications teacher, Prof. Lai Oso, who is also President, Association of Communication Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria (ACSPN), reaffirmed the vibrancy of the Nigerian press when he said to The Guardia, “Though there are some excesses here and there, but on a general note, it remains very vibrant, political and vocal.” In describing the Nigerian justice system in regards to freedom of the press, Oso noted that Nigeria has not had many libels, adding, “It appears the media on its own is being very careful not to rock the boat too much. The court can use cases of libel to intimidate the press by imposing very hefty fines. I also think the government has been careful not to clamp down on the media. Government has learnt that the public is not ready to support any clamp down on the media.”
Oso believes the relationship between the media and the justice system is commendable, but he also spoke on lack of justice for journalists, and blames it on the lethargy of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), which he said had failed to defend individual journalists, which may not have the resources to charge people to court: “The NUJ, Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MPAN) must be willing to defend the rights of media practitioners.”
Ronald Kayanja, Country Director of United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Lagos, said Nigeria was unique because of its multiplicity of media houses, which provides room for expression, noting, “There are conducive legislation in Nigeria. For instance, the Freedom of Information Act allows people to get information from government. There are also well-trained journalists. The only problem with the media in Nigeria is that the journalists don’t get paid, and as such they don’t invest in investigative journalism to expose corruption and put leaders to check. I have worked in a number of countries and I can say that the freedom of the media is much better than what I have seen in other countries.
“The government must assure the safety of journalists, and the justice system must ensure that there is no impunity by bringing to book all those who attack journalists. Journalists sometimes fear to report on certain issues because there is no good justice system that supports them. It is in everybody’s interest that there is freedom of expression in Nigeria, not just for the journalists. This will strengthen the democracy that Nigeria is nurturing.”
Also, National Professional Officer (Communication & Information Sector) UNESCO Regional office, Abuja, Macaulay Olushola, said a bias press is not in any way an asset to a nation, adding, “Therefore, irrespective of the ownership, the sanctity of the profession should be upheld. For this reason, UNESCO will continue to partner with all stakeholders in ensuring both private and state-owned media institutions operate within the ambit of the media profession through capacity building intervention, policy and advocacy, curriculum reviews and massive orientation to both in-training and practising Journalists.”
IN another development, anchor of ‘The Osasu Show’ and CEO of TOS TV Network, Ms Osasu Igbinedion, has called for an enabling environment for journalists practising in Nigeria. She saluted the tenacity of Nigerian journalists in the light of global acceptance of World Press Freedom Day. In a press statement, Osasu said though journalists in Nigeria are doing their best in spite of the crippling conditions under which they operate, their contributions hardly receive the deserved and commensurate appreciation of both the government and the people.
“The average Nigerian journalist is brilliant, courageous and adventurous. But they are not well appreciated in the Nigerian society. The Freedom of Information Act is a great opportunity for journalists to access information but government’s officials still hoard information. Hence journalists have to go the extra mile to get it. Like the proverbial camel attempting to pass through the eye of the needle, we struggle to get information and often have to court anonymous sources to get what we want.”
Osasu decried a situation where security and law enforcement agents sometimes attack journalists, saying, “It is sad that we as journalists have been at the receiving end of the brutality of law enforcement agencies. Some of my colleagues have ended up in the hospital with broken ribs all in the cause of performing their professional duties. Honestly, constituted authorities have to impress on security agencies why it is imperative for officers to respect the constitutionally guaranteed right of the press to do our job unhindered. After all, we are the gatekeepers of democracy.”
‘The Osasu Show’ anchor also decried many media owners for not paying journalists employed in their oeganisation, adding, “I have over 30 employees at TOS TV Network. I make it my utmost priority to pay salaries before month end. Unfortunately, many Nigerian journalists suffer from the mounting pressure of unpaid salaries, lack of health insurance packages and other forms of maltreatment from their employers. They seem to forget that the journalist is a husband, wife, father, mother or a relative to someone. How do these media employers expect such journalists to meet up with their obligations to themselves and loved ones if they are not paid at the end of the month?”
Also, the International Press Centre marked the day with conversations with stakeholders, who canvassed better welfare, security for Nigerian journalists, insisting that it is imperative that journalists are well remunerated and are also given adequate security. Organised by U.S. Mission in Nigeria Public Affairs Section, president, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, said journalists across the country deserve better remunerations. According to her, Nigerian journalists work on empty stomach and report the potbellied. She added that the Fourth Estate of the Realm is shrinking. We are not able to accommodate graduates any longer and we keep saying the new media is the future. If the new media is the future that means more members of staff would be laid off.
On what the guild does whenever a journalist is arrested, she said, “I believe we should engage and negotiate instead of attacking. The tradition before is to issue a statement but I don’t believe in that. I usually call the office of the IG, Special Assistance on Media in a bid to engage and negotiate and I tell members of the guild that it is when that fails that we get combative.”
In her speech, Zonal Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Police, Zone 2 Command, Dolapo Badmus, urged journalists to be unbiased in the coverage of events, avoid chaotic reportage, report from exciting angle, provide clear and factual reportage, have contact numbers of local police, contact number of field officers, liaise with police PRO, wear conspicuous ID cards and avoid controversial stands and adhere to strict professional practice and safety principles.Former Vice Chancellor, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akugba Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko, said the mass media must be objective in their reportage, promote voter education, set the agenda, avoidance of gratification, watchdog of political parties and advocate of recourse to the judiciary.
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