The Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Monday said the inalienable right to access and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack in Nigeria.
The body therefore called for an urgent need to protect the media, saying “democracy is in danger when a free press is threatened.”
The NGE made the position known in a statement to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day(WPFD) observed May 3 every year.
A statement by the NGE President Mustapha Isah and General Secretary Iyobosa Uwugiaren, said “while the threat to the media freedom in Nigeria is real, the impact on the state of democracy in the country will be very dangerous, if not checked.”
“Today is a day globally, to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among journalists and other media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
“We need to remind governments at all levels in Nigeria that a free and independent media that can keep the people informed and hold leaders accountable, is essential for a strong and sustainable democracy, including free and fair elections. Without it, Nigerians cannot make informed decisions about how they are governed; and address human rights abuses, corruption and abuse of power,” the editors stated.
The Guild further said its members were concerned that “elected leaders in Nigeria, who should be press freedom’s dependable protectors, have made several overt attempts to silence the media voices through proposed legislations that clearly seek to criminalise journalism practice in the country.”
The editors added that “apart from the regular attacks on journalists carrying out their legitimate editorial assignments by overzealous security agents, the current attempts to criminalise journalism practice in the country through obnoxious proposed laws, the suffocating economic environment and harsh political/economic policies of the federal government, have in the past few years, made it almost impossible for the media sector to carry out its constitutional responsibility for the benefit of the citizens.”
It therefore said “there is an urgent need to protect the media; because the impact of the suffocating economic and political environment being created by the government will be very dangerous to our democracy. A threat to the media is a threat to our democracy.
“Governments at all levels must take the lead in making sure that their actions do not inspire violations of press freedom. A democratic society like Nigeria should know that it has a crucial role to play in maintaining media freedom and facilitating access to public information.
“Government should regularly take strong and immediate action against any violations of media freedom – this should include speaking out against violence against journalists and authorities’ failure/refusal to identify and prosecute attackers.”
The NGE also called on the federal government to make newsprints, broadcast equipment and all other consumables in the media sector tax-free, in order to save the media from total collapse.
“The media is a strong pillar of democracy; it is the oxygen of the democratic space; and there is urgent need by the federal government to make intervention to save it from collapsing,” the editors added.
Also speaking on the WPFD, President Muhammadu Buhari lauded the role of the Nigerian media in strengthening democracy.
He also commended the courage and determination of those who daily go the extra time, sometimes at great personal risks, to keep the society well informed.
In fostering the pursuit of journalism in the country, the president reiterated the Nigerian government’s commitment to freedom of the press, pledging to continue ensuring the protection of the rights and privileges of journalists in the lawful performance of their professional duties.
He charged the Nigerian Press to use the WPFD to reflect on the need to embrace the best professional standards and practices, especially in the build-up to the forthcoming general elections.
He said the free performance of media roles and responsibilities during the electoral process is as important as the sanctity and will of Nigerians, expressed through the ballot box.
With the elections in sight, he urged the media “to be mindful of sponsored political news or publications capable of inciting hatred, division, violence, and chaos in the country, while also ensuring that the electoral umpire and other stakeholders play their roles in delivering free, fair, credible and transparent elections to Nigerians.
“We must stay united in supporting media professionals who work hard to de-escalate violent conflict and promote peaceful societies without compromising the responsibility to report.”
The president also urged government information managers to ensure the press and the general public have access to facts and figures of government information, without tears.
In line with the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, ”Journalism under digital siege,” President Buhari assured that government agencies under his watch would always stand against actions capable of limiting the preservation of the freedom of the Press guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said the federal government was working hard to support media organisations in Nigeria through provision of better internet access to underserved communities, and achieve 95 per cent digital literacy by 2030.
He thanked “members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm whose diligent work help in guaranteeing peace, stability, and progress in the country.”
IPI Nigeria holds symposium
And as part of the activities marking the day, the International Press Institute (IPI) Nigeria will hold a one-day symposium in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
A statement by IPI Nigeria Secretary Ahmed I. Shekarau said the symposium holds Friday, May 6, 2022, at the National Press Centre, Radio House, Area 8, Garki, Abuja.
The statement said a former Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Prof. Tonnie Iredia, would be the guest speaker at the symposium.
The statement said further that Prof. Iredia, who is now a lecturer in Mass Communication at the Nasarawa state University, will speak on “What Journalists and Media in Nigeria Need to Do to Keep Safe, Retain Credibility and be Sustainable.”
The statement lists as panelists to discuss the former NTA DG’s presentation, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the First Lady, Hon. Muhammad Sani Zorro; President of the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Mrs. Ladi Bala and the Nigeria Police Force Public Relations Officer, CSP Olumuyiwa Adejobi.
The panel discussion, according to the statement, will be moderated by the Editor-in-Chief of LEADERSHIP, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene.
According to the statement, the event to be graced by top media leaders, editors and reporters, kicks off at 10am.
It also announced that provision has been made for remote participation by stakeholders who may not be at the venue of the event. The Zoom link for virtual participation is as follows: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/87905583791?pwd=dnpuV3NRM2RjdEd5QVhqV2E2cVEzdz09
Meeting ID: 879 0558 3791
356 media freedom attacks
In a related development the International Press Institute (IPI) has documented 356 attacks on journalists, acts of censorship and serious violations of media freedom since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the latest figures.
Published ahead of World Press Freedom Day May 3, the data from IPI’s Ukraine War Press Freedom Tracker underscores the devastating toll the conflict has already taken on independent journalism, media freedom and the safety of journalists in both countries.
Seven journalists and media workers in Ukraine have so far been killed in the line of duty since February 24, according to IPI monitoring.
There is evidence at least two more may have been killed by Russian troops in occupied territory in apparent connection to their profession.
IPI has also documented 33 serious cases of domestic and foreign journalists reporting from the frontlines in Ukraine being attacked, shot at, or caught in shelling, with many being hospitalized with serious injuries.
This includes 21 journalists either sustaining gunshot wounds or coming under fire and at least 12 members of reporting crews being injured or caught in shelling and other airstrikes.
At least five journalists have been kidnapped or abducted, with some undergoing torture, beatings and other human rights abuses at the hands of Russian soldiers.
Dozens of regional media outlets have been forced to shut due to threats and newsroom seizures. IPI has documented four confirmed strikes on TV towers and infrastructure in Ukraine.
Overall, Russian state authorities and military forces have been responsible for 76% of all press freedom violations linked to the conflict documented by IPI over the last three months.
Massive repression in Russia
Also in Russia, where the Kremlin has moved to wipe out all remaining sources of independent news and information, at least 114 media and news websites have been blocked by the Roskomnadzor regulator, making up 32% of all recorded violations on IPI’s Tracker.
At least 10 major broadcasters or publications have since been shuttered or forced to cease operations altogether, including many of the last bastions of independent news such as Novaya Gazeta, Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd.
IPI documented 49 incidents of media professionals being detained as they covered anti-war protests in cities across the country over the last three months. Many were arrested despite being in possession of journalistic identification.
So far, at least eleven journalists have been fined or detained under a restrictive new law criminalizing what authorities deem to be “fake” news about the armed forces. Hundreds of Russian journalists have reportedly since fled the country fearing prosecution.
Dozens of foreign media have also been forced to close their offices and pull their correspondents out of the country, contributing to a blackout for impartial coverage and leaving citizens increasingly isolated and exposed to pro-Kremlin propaganda.
“These figures underscore the devastating toll this war has already taken on the lives of journalists as well as the scale of the human rights abuses and attacks on press freedom”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “We honour the courage of all journalists who continue to document the tragic human cost of this war in extremely challenging circumstances.
“In Ukraine, journalists reporting from the front lines have lost their lives and other have faced attacks, abductions and torture. In Russia, the Kremlin has moved to systematically cleanse the media ecosystem of all impartial reporting on the war and eradicate what remained of the country’s independent press.
“These attacks in both countries cast a dark shadow over this year’s World Press Freedom Day. They should also refocus the resolve of the international community to provide much needed support to the journalistic community in Ukraine and the independent Russia journalists driven into exile, while also safeguarding press freedoms at home.
“As this appalling war continues, IPI will continue to do all we can to document every single attack on journalists and every act of censorship and violence against the press, to ensure a comprehensive record exists of the full scale of these assaults on journalistic freedoms.”
Acts of censorship or restrictive regulations on independent journalism accounted for 46% of IPI’s documented alerts, with 87% of these violations carried out by Russian authorities.
Arrests and criminal investigations and charges made up a further 25% of all recorded alerts, of which Russian police and security forces were responsible for 94% of cases.
Attacks on journalists and media actors by Russian armed forces accounted for 14% of all documented alerts, though these include the most serious attacks and killings.
Russian state authorities such as the government, prosecutors and regulators were responsible for an additional 61% of all recorded alerts.
IPI’s monitoring includes all violations of press freedom linked to the war in Ukraine.
While the vast majority of alerts were documented in the territory of Ukraine and Russia, the monitoring also covers Belarus and other states around the world.