WPFD: IPC’s quest for safety and protection of journalists

In celebration of the 30th World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2023, the International Press Centre, (IPC) recently assembled stakeholders in a roundtable discussion. BAYO AGBOOLA reports.

The list of discussants included a former commissioner in Lagos state, Hon Kehinde Bamigbetan, the vice president (South), Nigeria Guild of Editors, (NGE), Mr Bolaji Adebiyi, dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Joseph Ayo Babalola University, (JABU), Oyo state chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, (NUJ) Bolanle a lecturer in the department of Mass Communications at Crescent University, Abeokuta in Ibadan for a one day ‘Stakeholders’ Forum on Journalists’ Safety and Protecting Freedom of Expression in the age of Misinformation and Disinformation’.

Setting the ball rolling

The executive director, International Press Centre (IPC), Mr Lanre Arogundade while introducing IPC’s Centre for Safety and Protection of Journalists (CSPI) said the over reaching framework for the establishment of the IPC Centre for Safety and Protection of Journalist (I-CSPJ), is the strategic objective of expanding the frontiers of press freedom in Nigeria and Africa of which the safety of journalists is an integral part.

It is predicated on the theory of change that it is possible to have a regime of press freedom within the context of the right to freedom of expression.
Arogundade stressed that, “As the theme of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) 2023 indicates, the right to freedom of expression is the harbinger of other human rights.”

According to him, “The rights and safety of journalists in Nigeria, online and offline, have over the past two decades been at the core of the activities and engagements of the International Press Centre and that at least six of the nine thematic areas of IPC relate one way or the other to the broad issues of the rights of journalists, safety of journalists, press freedom, among others. He stressed that IPC has introduced a number of significant initiatives including Nigerian Journalists Internet Rights Initiative (NJIRI) and establishment of the Safety of Journalists Alert Desk.

“Through these initiatives and others, IPC has also been involved in the monitoring and documentation of attacks on journalists, publication of annual reports on the safety of journalists (that of 2022 will soon be presented), issuing of safety advisories including during the Covid-19 lockdown and the 2023 general elections and various campaigns and advocacies all aimed at curbing the scourge of attacks/assaults on journalists and other media professionals and media outlets.

Imperative of I-CPSJ

The I-CPSJ is a product of the experiences gathered in the course of embarking on press freedom activities by IPC. The major lesson is that the advocacy and campaign for safety and protection of journalists need to be done at an institutional level for impactful engagement, the building of sustainable partnerships and the attraction of the enormous resources that would be required to make the endeavour a success.

“In other words, through I-CPSJ, we are taking a deliberate but measured step to expand the scope of and seek more impactful results of our press freedom work as it relates to the safety and protection of journalists. “To ensure effective implementation and coordination of the centre, a coordinator has been appointed with the task of positioning the CSPJ to strategically coordinate initiatives to respond to the challenge of addressing the worsening state of the safety of journalists and Press freedom in Nigeria.”

Giving further insights

IPC programme officer Melody Akinjiyan in her presentation entitled ‘2022 report on state of attacks on journalists’ stressed that the worrisome trend of the violation of journalists and the media in Nigeria continued in the year 2022 as there was an increase compared with 2021 saying, “In this regard, the Safety of Journalists Alert Desk of the International Press Centre (IPC) documented not less than 66 incidents of attacks affecting journalists and other media professionals; the attacks range from unlawful arrests /detention, physical assaults, threat to life, abduction, invasion, threat to sanction, media shutdown, robbery, hacking of social media account, threat to disclose source, denial of access to information, and murder.

“The report on the state of attacks on journalists and media in Nigeria (2022) was generated through desk research and monitoring by IPC’s Safety of Journalists Alert Desk complemented by the field reports of press freedom monitors engaged by IPC in each of the country’s six geo-political zones. The collated information was then subjected to verification especially through the affected individual journalists and news medium after which they were analysed to determine the location of the incident, the type of attacks, the alleged perpetrators, gender of the victims, type of media organisations affected, injuries or losses suffered and remedies sought, if any. The report as being presented reflects the application of the outlined methodology above. The attacks occurred in the six geo-political zones. The states include Zamfara, Jigawa and Kaduna (NW) (4); FCT Abuja and Kwara (NC) (16); Gombe, Taraba, Adamawa and Bauchi (NE) (6); Lagos, Ondo, Osun, Ogun and Oyo (SW) (26); Enugu (SE) (4) and Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Cross River (SS) (10).

She stressed that, “The type of attacks that occurred in the year under review were physical assault (24); abduction, (7); gun attack (1) threats to life (2); threat to disclose source /intimidation (2); invasion (1); media shutdown (1); denial of access to information (1); robbery, (1); harassment (2); unlawful arrest and detention (21); hacking of account (1); threat to sanction/payment of fine.”

She said that the alleged perpetrators are Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCDC), Security Operatives, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Department of State Security (DSS), hoodlums, Shooting Stars FC fans, unknown persons, gunmen, Nigeria Police Force, Police Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB), political thugs, armed robbers, Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, Politician, LASTMA and ISWAP.

In view of all these, the programme officer tasked journalists to demonstrate greater sense of solidarity in dealing with attacks on media and abuses on rights of colleagues in the profession.
Mrs Akinjiyan pointed out that the figure compiled were the only ones reported of the several unreported cases, urging journalists to share information on attacks with IPC.

Other discussants

The dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Prof Tokunbo Adaja in his presentation, titled, ‘Protecting Freedom of Expression in the Age of Misinformation and Disinformation’ said the World Press Freedom Day was set aside to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate press freedom around the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives on the exercise of their profession.

Speaking further Prof Adaja said, “Fake News refers to false or misleading information presented as news. It may be for profit or non-profit purposes. It consists of articles, images or videos which are disguised as real news, while misinformation refers to information that contains false or misleading contents. However, the false content may not be intentional, but due to the ignorance of the content creator.

All these developments became possible as a result of the right to freedom of expression. He however submitted that legislating against Freedom of Expression, for whatever reason, will ultimately become counterproductive in the sense that it negates fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution and other international and regional treaties.

He said, “We are in a free world and as such, people must be free to generate ideas and impart ideas for the benefit and development of mankind. Any ‘seemingly’ fake news, misinformation or disinformation must be promptly corrected by the concerned person, group, organisation or government. We should allow ideas to interact freely, genuine ideas will drive out fake ideas.”
The Oyo state chairman of the NUJ Chief Ademola Babalola while speaking as a discussant said the level of misinformation and disinformation in the country is alarming, saying if Freedom of Expression must be protected, then, all efforts must be emplaced to eliminate or reduce to the barest minimum the high rate of misinformation and disinformation which is also known as fake news.

“It gives me great pleasure to be at this 2023 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) Media Roundtable and Media Stakeholders’ Forum as a discussant. I thank the organisers of this programme for inviting me to be among these eminent personalities to discuss, agree and come up with a roadmap on the way forward for press freedom in Nigeria. The topic of this programme: Protecting Freedom of Expression in the Age of Misinformation and Disinformation, is very apt. The level of misinformation and disinformation in the country these days is alarming. If Freedom of Expression must be protected, then, all efforts must be emplaced to eliminate or reduce to the barest minimum the high rate of misinformation and disinformation which is also known as fake news.”

The roundtable discussion among others generated a number of recommendations including the sponsoring of regulatory bill for the practice of journalism, the need for insurance scheme, better emoluments and welfare packages for journalists as the way forward to enhance journalism profession.